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Snohomish Fire might join Everett Fire to create regional fire system
Tulalip Fire District 15 is also interested


Kaitlyn Price 2018 file photo

In 2018, Snohomish Fire recruit Doug Higbee prepares to access the inside fire scenario at a fire training program on Monday, April 16, 2018 at the Ray Brown Training Center in Machias. The purpose was to evaluate the inside and outside conditions of a mock hallway caught on fire, simulating what recruits might see in the field later on.



SNOHOMISH — Snohomish’s Fire District 4 has decided to study the possibility of forming a Regional Fire Authority (RFA) with the Everett Fire Department.
“This is the next step in investigating the possibility (that) it makes sense,” fire board Commissioner Jim Schmoker said during the Dec. 14 Fire District 4 Commissioners Meeting. The Commission Board and Snohomish Fire Chief Don Waller signed a letter of interest in forming an RFA.
The letter, describing interest to begin discussing the possibility of an RFA, was the product of a meeting with Schmoker, Chief Waller, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin* and Everett Fire Chief Dave DeMarco.
DeMarco is approaching fire departments to join with Everett Fire to create the RFA.
The letter stated the five interests of Fire District 4 to ensure a RFA is logical.
”One, we have a vested interest in the formation of an RFA, that is each district has something to give and something to gain. Two, each member of the RFA would have an equal say in its design and future governance. Three, all stakeholders must be involved throughout the process. Four, the design of the RFA must promote an increase in service with little to no increase to the taxpayer. Five, all stakeholders in each jurisdiction must feel positive about any finalized plans.”
“This is what we talked about with the mayor and Chief DeMarco, we all agreed on each of these points,” Schmoker said.
An RFA would require more planning. If the plan moves forward and an agreement can be made, the elected boards would make the final call on putting the plan out for voters. Chief Waller said a consultant was needed to guide the RFA conversation to ensure it is being done logically and legally. A motion was passed at the Dec. 14 meeting approving the commissioner’s board to cover 20% of the consulting fee during future discussions.
Schmoker made it clear during the Dec. 14 meeting that the only way Snohomish would join is if the community will be served better because of it.
“We’re in it for the citizens, for the service, not for the money,” Schmoker said. “Personally, I’m in this for better service. If we can’t get better service, for equal or very little difference in taxpayer involvement, then I’m going to drop out. My vote goes away.”
During the meeting, commissioners discussed and agreed that the hard questions must be asked first to use time on this matter efficiently.
For Everett, a RFA would decouple Everett Fire from being funded by the city’s budget and instead have the fire service funded through taxes collected by the RFA.  
Tulalip Fire has also expressed interest in the RFA, DeMarco said last week.

*- CORRECTION- updated Jan. 18
In the print version of this story, the Tribune named Snohomish Mayor John Kartak as participating in an Everett-FD4 joint meeting about a regional fire authority. This is incorrect. The error was from information that “the mayor” participated. Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin was the mayor in the meeting.
The Tribune regrets the error.



Past coverage:

Everett Fire thinking about shift to regional fire authority

By ADAM WORCESTER, contributing writer
Published June 24, 2020

EVERETT — The city is exploring making its fire department an independent taxing authority, which would largely split it off from the city’s ailing budget.
Mayor Cassie Franklin has contacted neighboring jurisdictions about partnering with Everett Fire to create a regional fire authority (RFA), which would levy and collect property taxes for fire and emergency medical services.
Fire Chief Dave DeMarco will address the Mukilteo City Council on June 29 to discuss this idea.
A committee of Franklin and Everett City Council members Brenda Stonecipher and Scott Bader has met once so far to discuss fire service options, and is slated to meet again in July.
“We envision a three-year timeline to form an RFA,” Franklin told the council at a Feb. 26 briefing. “We assumed it’s complex, and that it would take some time.”
State law gives Everett two options regarding an RFA.
It could join an established fire authority nearby — Marysville or South County — or form a new RFA with either or all of the Mukilteo, Snohomish County Airport and Port of Everett fire departments.
Voters in each jurisdiction would have to approve either choice, since both shift fire funding from the city to a new taxing body.
Regional fire authorities are governed by a board of elected officials, city council members, or a combination of the two.
How switching to an RFA will affect property taxes depends if the city lowers its regular levy rate to compensate for the loss of fire revenue.
“Most but not all of the cities that have joined an RFA have initially reduced their regular levies by the same amount,” DeMarco told the council.
If Everett chooses to do that, there would be no increase for taxpayers, but the city’s budget deficit would increase by $7.5 million.
If the fire district joins an RFA and the city does not reduce its levy rate, property taxes for median homeowners would increase $584 a year and the city’s budget deficit would decrease by $22.6 million.
At a break-even point, the city would lower its levy rate by $1.13, which wouldn’t reduce the city budget deficit but would add $144 in property taxes for the median property owner.
Regional fire authorities may collect up to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value each year to provide fire service for properties within their boundaries.
If the Fire Department levied that $1.50 rate this year, it would have generated an estimated $7.5 million surplus for the department, according to a city analysis.
In addition to fire-service taxes, property owners pay a uniform, 50 cents-per $1,000 EMS tax.
Regional fire authorities can levy either the EMS tax or use a “fire benefit charge” of up to 60 percent of the cost of fire services.
Fire benefit charges are calculated using a complex formula that analyzes a property’s type, size, number of calls for service, and the risk it poses to first responders.
The fire benefit charge model shifts costs “more heavily toward customers that demand that service,” DeMarco told the council in a Feb. 26 presentation.
For the average single family home an fire benefit charge would be net neutral or possibly a tax decrease, DeMarco said.
A regional fire authority needs 50 percent voter approval to form, and require voter re-approval every six years. Replacing the EMT tax with a fire benefit charge requires supermajority voter approval of 60 percent-plus.
“There are very few city fire departments left,” DeMarco told the council at a February 2020 retreat.

  

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