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Maple Avenue fire station not closing, officials insist

SNOHOMISH — Fire District 4’s station on Maple Avenue is not closing — not in mid-September, anyway.
The question arose, though, after a video excerpt from a city tour at the station Wednesday, Aug. 7 posted to Facebook by fire commission candidate Evan Merritt’s campaign spread locally. Fire District 4 posted a response to the video and commentary on Friday, Aug. 9. 
In an interview after the meeting, city administrator Steve Schuller clarified a comment at the end of the video, when he said “the closing is scheduled for mid-September,” which raised some eyebrows. The city co-owns this station and other properties jointly with the fire district, and is engaged in a land exchange with the fire district to potentially buy the Maple Avenue station. Schuller said the “closing” he was referring to was the close of the due diligence phase of the process, not on closing the station.
Fire District 4 Chief Ron Simmons affirmed the same in an interview.
“We’re not closing” the station in September, the chief said.



“There’s never been any plan to close that station,” Simmons said of the Maple Avenue station on Monday, Aug. 12.
Currently Fire District 4 and the city jointly own the Maple Avenue land and the Fire District’s station on that site. The land exchange, as it’s set up, would have the city take ownership of the Maple Avenue land and the Fire District would fully own its location on Avenue D. The Avenue D land includes the home of the Snohomish Community Food Bank, which has a long-term lease for its site.
Schuller said, “the property would become the city’s and we are not in the fire department business.”
He said it is possible that the fire district could decide to rent from the city, and keep using the Maple Avenue station.
Something could change with the ownership of Maple Avenue station, but what that change means remains to be seen.
“If it ever came down to that, there’s just a lot of things” that would have to happen before the station at 427 Maple Ave. could close, Simmons said. Public meetings and a study on response time impacts are two of those things, he said.
Recently, the process was achieving a benchmark: they have agreed on property values, which have not yet been publicly disclosed. That property value stage kicked off a 90-day due diligence process, Schuller said. A due diligence process is typically used to consider a property.
The contractual end of the due diligence phase is mid-September, Schuller said. That’s when both parties have an option to opt out of the co-ownership real estate agreement, he said.
Schuller said any change would not involve a public process because that stage of the process has already played out, over nearly a year of mostly open public meetings, with the exception of some legally allowed executive sessions, which are closed to public view.
Simmons clarified Merritt’s call figures discussing the Maple Avenue station calling it the “busiest” station.
The station fielded about 2,000 calls in 2017, from adding up the call figures in the district’s annual report. But while it fielded the most calls, Simmons said that doesn’t mean Maple Avenue crews responded to all of them. Instead, calls might be dispatched to the district’s Avenue D station because of local traffic flow and other reasons, Simmons said.
The fire district’s response statement posted on Facebook the following day. Simmons said in an Aug. 8 phone interview that because of legal limitations on what the fire department can say publicly about the real estate agreement, the district had legal assistance in devising the post to Facebook.

“A recent Social Media post is accusing the District of secret negotiations with the City of Snohomish to close Station 41 located at 427 Maple Avenue. The District believes this has created turmoil in the public and must address the misinformation,” the fire district’s post to Facebook said.
It described the process the city and fire district took, which included legally allowed executive session meetings. Executive session meetings are closed to the public, and are allowed for limited reasons. It also mentioned publicly open meetings where the issue was discussed, and said, “no plan has been developed to close this station on September 19 or at any time in the near future.”
The post on Facebook had the narrative: “Breaking News: Fire District to CLOSE Maple Ave Fire Station.” It included a video taped portion of a public meeting as part of the due diligence process, and included a written post that said the station would close in mid-September. The Facebook page is for Evan Merritt’s campaign, and Merritt confirmed in a phone interview on Aug. 8 that he manages the Facebook page.
Schuller said the food bank won’t lose its space in a land deal. The contract stipulates that Fire District 4 must honor the food bank’s long-term lease, and that the fire district would need to make the food bank “whole” in the chance the fire district did ask the food bank to vacate, Schuller said.
“We worked very diligently to make sure there are no issues there,” Schuller said.
Whatever the eventual outcome, Merritt felt the process was not transparent enough. Merritt said some people feel left out of the public involvement portion and are concerned about the possibility of the closure of the fire department’s headquarters.
In Merritt’s post, it said: “There have been NO PUBLIC MEETINGS or
announcements by the fire district specifically regarding this closure until today. There is no published plan for relocating crews in the immediate area.”
Schuller, while seeing where the Facebook post’s originated, expressed disappointment in how the issue was portrayed online.
“I can clearly say if this indeed came from Evan Merritt, it does appear to have a number of factual errors ... There is not a ‘secret plan,’ that is incorrect, and I can see myself in the video explaining the public process,” Schuller said.
Regarding the statement there were no public meetings, Schuller said: ”Absolutely incorrect. We have had a number of public meetings” at the fire district board and the City Council.
The City Council discussed the real estate exchange publicly at its Jan. 15 meeting, and discussed it again in a legally allowed executive session that resulted in an end-of-meeting vote done publicly to approve property appraisal prices at its June 4 meeting.
Both parties had already agreed to a price, Schuller announced at the Aug. 7 tour. He also said the fire department has expressed interest in having full ownership of its headquarters so they can make changes to it.

  

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