The time is here to cast your primary ballots.
For residents in Lynnwood and unincorporated areas of Snohomish County Fire District 1, one measure seeks to join the two fire response entities into one Regional Fire Authority (RFA) known as South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue.
The Lynnwood City Council and Fire District 1 Board of Commissioners each approved a joint resolution for the proposition to appear on the Aug. 1 ballot earlier this year. The Fire District 1 Board of Commissioners passed the resolution unanimously. Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith cast the tie-breaking vote for the city’s resolution to pass 5-4. However, on May 22, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution expressing support for the measure. Click here to read that resolution.
If passed, the RFA would form on Oct. 1, following the passage of SHB 1467 earlier this year allowing the RFA to form before January.
As voters begin receiving their ballots for the Aug. 1 primary election, Lynnwood Today asked Fire District 1 spokeswoman Leslie Hynes some frequently asked questions about the RFA:
LT: What is a Regional Fire Authority (RFA)?
LH: A Regional Fire Authority (RFA) is a special purpose district established by voters in a service area that provides funding for fire and emergency medical services. State law provides the framework for cities, towns and fire districts to consider forming an RFA to consolidate operations into one fire department while retaining local control. An RFA can be made up of cities, fire districts or a combination of the two. Creation of an RFA is authorized by state law (Title 52.26, Revised Code of Washington).
LT: Why are the City of Lynnwood and Fire District 1 (FD1) considering an RFA?
LH: Lynnwood is surrounded by territory served by Fire District 1. The public expects fast response to fire and medical emergencies. The closest medic unit or fire truck to respond to a 911 call in the City is often a Fire District vehicle. Similarly, the Lynnwood Fire Department often responds to emergency calls inside the District. The City and District last year blended their management structures, saving more than $1 million. However, an RFA will result in the full integration of governance, administration and operations.
Both Lynnwood and the Fire District are experiencing growing demand for public safety services. Population and calls for service in the City and District continue to increase, with trends expected to continue in the coming years. While the Fire District focuses solely on delivery of fire and emergency medical services, Lynnwood provides many services—including police, roads, parks, etc., and the Fire Department competes for funding with these other City services. By creating the RFA, Lynnwood and the District seek to consolidate resources to eliminate duplication and to provide dedicated funding at more sustainable levels to maintain and enhance fire and emergency medical services in the entire area.
LT: This isn’t the first time Lynnwood and FD1 have considered an RFA. Why?
LH: Over the years, fire service regionalization in south Snohomish County has been the subject of many discussions and studies. Fire District 1 has been a part of three successful consolidations: Fire District 11 in 2000, Mountlake Terrace Fire Department in 2005 and Edmonds Fire Department in 2010. Fire District 1 and Lynnwood were both part of a regional fire authority planning process in 2011 involving nine jurisdictions (seven cities and two fire districts) in south Snohomish County. An RFA Planning Committee made up of 27 elected officials, three from each jurisdiction, was formed, but work was suspended in 2013 after six of the nine agencies determined they weren’t ready to move forward with finalizing a plan to take to voters. Last year, Lynnwood and Fire District 1 decided that our two agencies should revisit the idea and began the process of drafting an RFA plan to take to voters.
LT: What are the key benefits of having an RFA for the City of Lynnwood? Downsides? What are the key benefits of having an RFA for FD1? Downsides?
LH: The City of Lynnwood and the Fire District cannot support or oppose this ballot measure.
The stated goals of the RFA, as expressed in resolutions adopted by the City and District, are as follows:
• Provide sustainable and stable funding
• Eliminate duplication in administrative staff, training, purchasing and other areas
• Consolidate use of resources to provide fire and emergency medical services, including paramedics
• Standardize training, tactics and procedures
• Provide local control by a governing board seven elected representatives
LH: How often does Lynnwood Fire assist with a FD1 call?
LH: Fire District 1 and Lynnwood have automatic aid agreements and a dispatch system that will send the closest available fire unit, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries. In 2016, Lynnwood provided automatic aid on 2,392 incidents in Fire District 1. Many of these incidents have multiple units responding.
LT: How often does FD1 assist with a Lynnwood Fire call?
LH: Fire District 1 and Lynnwood have automatic aid agreements and a dispatch system that will send the closest available fire unit, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries. In 2016, Fire District 1 provided automatic aid on 2,209 incidents in the City of Lynnwood. Many of these incidents have multiple units responding.
LT: How will the creation of an RFA affect my fire service if I’m in an emergency?
LH: Services provided under the RFA will remain the same or improve based on efficiencies gained by the RFA. When you call 911, the same firefighters will respond from the same fire stations. Fire District 1 and Lynnwood firefighters will become employees of the RFA. No one will lose their job due to the establishment of the RFA. Fire stations, trucks and equipment will transfer to the RFA at no cost.
LT: Though they cannot vote on the issue, how will the RFA affect the service of people living in one of FD1’s contracted cities (Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace or Brier)?
LH: There will be no change in service. If the RFA is approved, those contract services will be provided by the RFA, under the same contract terms and conditions. Additional cities could join the RFA in the future.
LT: I live in the City of Lynnwood. How will the RFA affect my taxes?
LH: For City residents, the RFA will change the way they pay for fire service. Currently, the City funds its fire department out of its general fund, which is supported by property taxes as well as other revenues such as sales tax. If the RFA is formed, City residents will pay $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value directly to the RFA. The City Council adopted Resolution No. 2017-10 which states Lynnwood’s intent to offset the new RFA levy by reducing City tax collections in 2018 by the amount saved from no longer having to fund a fire department.
LT: I live in Fire District 1. How will the RFA affect my taxes?
LH: Fire District residents will see no change to their current property tax levy: The existing $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value Fire District Fire Levy will be replaced by a new $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value RFA levy – the same amount as approved by District voters in 2016.
LT: I live in the City of Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace or Brier. I cannot vote on the issue, but I am wondering — how will the RFA affect my taxes?
LH: It will not affect your taxes. Your city pays a fee, set by contract, to have Fire District 1 provide fire and emergency medical services. Your city pays this fee out of its general fund, supported by the taxes you pay to your city. None of this will change if the RFA is formed – the only difference will be that your city will pay the fee to the RFA instead of the Fire District under the same contract and terms in place today.
LT: How will the RFA affect firefighters, their union contracts and where they work?
LH: All firefighters from Lynnwood and Fire District 1 will become employees of the RFA. No one will lose their job due to the establishment of the RFA. Firefighters in the City and Fire District are represented by two different locals from the International Association of Fire Fighters, and have separate contracts. It is anticipated that the two labor groups will combine and negotiate a single contract if the RFA is approved. All fire station staffing will continue at today’s level. Since station assignments are typically determined using an annual bidding process, some firefighters may end up working at different stations than they do today, but this is no different than what occurs at the start of every year.
LT: Who will govern the RFA?
LH: The RFA will be governed by a Board of Commissioners representing the residents living in the RFA boundaries. Initially, the RFA will be governed by a “transition board” consisting of two Lynnwood elected officials and all five Fire District Commissioners. This allocation of governing board seats reflects the population currently served by each jurisdiction.
In the future, the RFA Plan calls for a permanent, directly elected board of seven members: five commissioners to be elected by districts of roughly equal population, with two districts including territory of the City of Lynnwood. The remaining two commissioner positions will be “at-large.” Elections for all five districted positions will occur in 2019. Elections for the “at-large” positions will occur in 2021.
LT: Is there anything else you would like to add?
LH: To learn more about the proposed South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue Regional Fire Authority please visit www.LynnwoodFD1rfa.com or call 425-551-1214.