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Fire District 4 board candidates both emphasize service

Incumbent Jim Schmoker (left) faces challenger Merritt Weese for the Fire District 4 board.

SNOHOMISH — Fire District 4’s longest-serving commissioner is being challenged for re-election by a resident who’s spent years studying the district.
Incumbent Jim Schmoker, 69, points out the board is currently involved in big decisions for the fire service’s long-term future.  He notes the district is currently studying a wide-ranging Standard of Cover technical evaluation (available on its website) to determine service needs such as new stations and manpower.
Merritt Weese, 45, said she brings analytical skills that will be of great use for helping guide the district. She began studying the fire district’s operations five years ago.
Weese said she filed for election this year when no-one else did to ensure there was a challenger. Schmoker was unopposed in 2015’s election but beat an opponent in 2009.
A seat on the three-person fire commission comes up for election every two years. These are for six-year terms and elections are staggered.
Ballots begin arriving in the mail later this week.
Schmoker said if re-elected, he is interested in seeing the district make continuous improvement, including to get response times faster and increasing manpower.
Weese agrees. She is interested in parity in coverage for both rural and in-city areas of the district with an eye on the future.
On manpower, “no matter what year it is, we need to right-size our force to align with the growth in our region,” Weese said.
One responsibility the fire board has relates to how Snohomish Fire is currently talking with Everett Fire about merging to create a Regional Fire Authority (RFA). Come 2022, the fire board will have decisions to make on continuing to pursue the RFA and how its tax-funding model is packaged.
Neither candidate could give a definitive yes or no on if they’d approve the RFA. It’s in preliminary talks.
Schmoker said he’s “for it if it makes sense,” and currently has an objective view on the RFA. “My reason for a merger would be to improve services or lower costs.”
Weese said merging with somebody is inevitable, but “I could not place a vote” right now regarding the Everett Fire RFA.
The RFA committee has discussed setting up a Fire Benefit Charge within how revenues are collected. This is a fee charged proportionally to property owners based on square footage and fire risk of a building. Commercial and industrial users generally pay more under the system, and it rebalances how much property tax is charged.
Weese said that a fire benefit charge needs to be in the Everett Fire RFA’s model. “It would be a deal-breaker if there’s no fire benefit charge,” Weese said. Why? “It would be the only way to relieve the pressure on our working-class and middle-class Jane and Joe.”
Schmoker said he’d favor a fire benefit charge “if we can make it work reasonably” but noted it is a complicated taxing system.
Schmoker said having prior experience on a fire department helps board members make informed decisions for the district. From the early 1980s to the early 2000s, Schmoker volunteered as a firefighter with Fire District 4. His career has largely been in IT management, including managing a $13 million budget for a development team within Microsoft.
Weese hasn’t worked in a fire department, but began watching the fire commission in 2017. She works as an administrative assistant.
Her interest intensified in 2019 when it erupted that Fire District 4 was considering closing the Maple Avenue station (it’s still open). She said she expects transparency from officials.
Schmoker got involved in district affairs after the fire commission terminated longtime Chief Bob Merritt in 2004. He joined a team of fire district watchdogs that included Fire Commissioner Steve Towers. When Towers left elected office, Schmoker got the seat.




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