Regional Fire Authority measure to officially appear on ballot after FD1 approval

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Following unanimous approval of a joint resolution by the Fire District 1 Board of Commissioners, residents within the City of Lynnwood and Fire District 1 boundaries will officially see a measure on the ballot this August to create the South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue Regional Fire Authority (RFA).

With a 5-0 vote on Tuesday night, there was much stronger support for the measure at the Fire District 1 Board of Commissoners meeting than there was at the Lynnwood City Council meeting last week. Lynnwood passed the resolution in a split 4-3 vote with Mayor Nicola Smith casting the tie-breaking vote. Councilmember Shannon Sessions abstained due to a conflict of interest.

Several commissioners cited the benefits of creating an RFA from the perspective of delivering fire service.

“The 17 miles of boundary between the City of Lynnwood and Fire District 1 service area have really no relevance when it comes to delivering service to the public.” said Commissioner Richard Schrock. Schrock examined the recent fire of a building under construction in Lynnwood. Fire District 1 deployed the most uniformed personnel to that fire, even though it was within the boundaries of the City of Lynnwood.

He said the two departments jointly respond to calls for service every day.

“What this RFA will do, in my opinion, is make it easier to deploy forces, make it easier to provide resources necessary to support that activity,” Schrock added, saying as the RFA becomes more efficient, he would even hope to see service improve.

Creating an RFA would also alleviate tensions between the City of Lynnwood and Fire District 1 when it comes to the city annexing unincorporated areas near Lynnwood. If those areas were annexed to the City of Lynnwood, Fire District 1 would no longer receive their tax dollars, and Fire District 1’s service area would become more disconnected. If a single RFA is formed covering the entire area, those concerns would disappear.

Several commissioners said they were excited to send the measure to the ballot, so that the citizens of Lynnwood and Fire District 1 can determine whether or not they want the RFA to form.

“I’m happy with the plan,” Commissioner David Chan said. “I always believed it is the will of the people.”

Creating an RFA would allow the two involved entities to maintain combined administrative staffs, which have been combined since June 2016, as well as consolidate training resources. Those involved with creating the RFA draft plan also expect fire crew responses to be more efficiently managed.

The RFA draft plan is funded through a $1.50 RFA property tax levy. This levy would eliminate the current Fire District 1 tax levy and reduce the city’s levy capacity, so those involved in creating the RFA expect impacts to the taxpayers to be minimal during the RFA’s creation. Current EMS levies would also transfer to the RFA. All levies have a growth cap of 1 percent per year.

The RFA will be governed by a Board of Commissioners, consisting of seven elected members. Five of the members will represent specified districts. Two will represent the area at large.

This is not the first time an RFA has been discussed in the region. The most recent attempt three years ago failed due to several unanswered questions and funding issues. This is the first time an RFA measure between Fire District 1 and the City of Lynnwood has made it to the ballot.

“To be here on the cusp of going to the voters is really exciting,” Commissioner Jim Kenny said. “Of course in the end, the people decide.”

The measure needs to be approved by 50 percent of voters on Aug. 1 from the area of Fire District 1 and the City of Lynnwood combined to pass. Fire District 1 has approximately four times as many voters as Lynnwood.

If an RFA is formed, the cities of Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Brier will have their Fire District 1 contracts transfer to South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue. Each city could potentially join the RFA at a later date.

Citizens who have been vocally against the creation of the RFA have cited concerns over property tax rates. The City of Lynnwood would have to lower its tax rate as a result of the creation of an RFA, as it would not have to include a fire department in its budget, but it is unclear how much the city’s budget would decrease at this point — the exact number would be determined by the City Council at a later date. Opponents have also expressed concerns over transferring fire governance to a body other than the City Council.

The City of Lynnwood and Fire District 1 are currently seeking applicants for pro and con statement committees. Click here for more information.

–By Natalie Covate

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