Lynnwood, Fire District 1 to continue fire consolidation talks

Talks between officials of the Lynnwood Fire Department and Snohomish County Fire District 1 will continue throughout the summer as the two entities explore creating a possible Regional Fire Authority.

When the officials meet with the Lynnwood City Council again, possibly in September, Lynnwood Fire Chief Scott Cockrum hopes to have answers to a number of issues raised during Monday’s work session with the Council. The issues include the costs of the proposed new entity/Regional Fire Authority, a look at the funding models (taxes) of the service and at the sustainability of those funding models. How the two sides will proceed and the format of future meetings also needs to be addressed in some fashion, Cockrum said.

Monday’s work session focused on some sobering numbers on the escalating costs of fire service in Lynnwood, which were prepared by Lynnwood Finance Director Sonja Springer and Fire District 1 analyst Bill Cushman.

Based on historical data, the cost of fire service in Lynnwood is increasing at a rate of 6 percent per year, but because of Initiative 747, property tax levies are limited to 1 percent per year.

By 2018, the City’s entire property tax levy will be needed to fund the fire department for basic services at existing service levels. The growth of the City, however, means that additional staffing and equipment will be needed starting next year. These costs means that the overall costs of fire service in Lynnwood will exceeded the City’s total property tax levy in 2016. The estimated gap between all property tax revenues and the cost of fire services reaches $6.2 million by 2018.

The two options to address this funding gap are creating a Regional Fire Authority (RFA) or proposing a Levy Lid Lift. The latter was not viewed as a viable alternative by Cushman. In his model, the Levy Lid Lift bridges the gap between funding and expenses for only a couple of years. Citizens also generally aren’t supportive of Levy Lid Lifts.

“I do not remember any city being successful using a Levy Lid Lift election to increase property taxes,” Cushman said. “I can’t think of one.”

Under the current levy (General Operating and EMS) the City receives $11,691,352 and the annual cost to the average homeowner is $609.65. Under a levy with a RFA using the maximum possible levy rates, the City would receive $7,633,953 and the annual cost to the average homeowner would be $895.68. Under the Regional Fire Authority scenario, the City would not have the expenses of the fire department, which currently is about $9.7 million. So in effect, the City would be ahead financially by about $5.7 million. The City isn’t obligated to impose the maximum possible levy rate.

Springer emphasized that if an RFA is approved by voters, the City Council will need to determine the amount to levy property owners with the County Assessor’s office determining the rate. The amount established during the first year of the RFA is important because after the first year, this General Operating Levy amount will be limited to a 1 percent increase per year to full all other General Fund Services.

The issue of the governance of the RFA was raised by Councilmember Ruth Ross and echoed by Councilmember Ian Cotton.

“What kind of governance models are out there and what would be pursued?” Cotton asked.

While agreeing that governance would have to be addressed, Cockrum noted that having only two parties involved in this potential RFA makes the potential resolution of the issue easier.

– By David Pan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.