Officials share Regional Fire Authority developments during open houses

Officials from the City of Lynnwood, Lynnwood Fire and Fire District 1 gathered twice over the past two weeks to hold informational open houses about the progress of a Regional Fire Authority (RFA) proposal.

The proposal is still in its early stages of being formed. The RFA Planning Committee began holding meetings in October 2016. This is the most recent attempt to create an RFA after several years of on-and-off discussions.

A handful of community members attended an open house in Lynnwood last week. Fewer attended Wednesday’s open house at Station 21 (16819 13th Ave. W. near Martha Lake).

During the open house on Wednesday, Jan. 25, fire officials said the most common question they have received from community members was why go to an RFA at all.

The main benefit, according to Deputy Chief of Fire Operations Doug Dahl, is flexibility and efficiency. He said by going under one umbrella, Fire District 1 and Lynnwood Fire would more easily be able to redistribute units as needed. For example, if there are several fire or aid calls in one area of Lynnwood, it would be easier to pull units from less-busy Fire District 1 stations to staff the now-empty stations.

It’s something that happens sometimes already, but if the units all operated under the same organization, “that would be automatic,” Dahl said.

It would also allow Fire District 1 and Lynnwood Fire to create efficiencies within areas such as training. The two organizations have already combined administrative forces, but other areas would also be able to operate in a similar manner.

As far as the level of service and response times, Dahl said residents “shouldn’t see a difference” other than a possibly new patch on firefighters’ sleeves.

During the open house, the RFA Planning Committee asked for visitors to vote on their favorite names for the new RFA. Some of the more popular selections are: North Sound Fire, Patkanim Fire & Rescue (named for a prominent native chief of the Snohomish and Snoqualmie tribes), Snohomish County Fire Rescue 1, Snohomish County/Lynnwood Regional Fire Authority and Soundview Fire Authority, among a couple dozen other name suggestions. Once the name choices are further narrowed down, residents will be able to vote for a name on the RFA’s website.

While some easier decisions have been finalized, such as the boundaries of the new RFA, conversations about the bigger issues, including how it will be financed and governed, have only just begun during RFA Planning Committee meetings. However, the RFA Planning Committee hopes to have most of the details ironed out before the next round of open houses expected sometime in the spring.

Financing options being weighed are to either keep a standard EMS levy of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or to reduce that property tax to $1 per $1,000 of assessed value and add a fire benefit charge. A straight levy can only increase by 1 percent each year, and voters would have to approve any levy lid lifts.

If the RFA Planning Committee decides to go with the fire benefit charge, it would be calculated in such a way that the owner of a building of a certain size would pay the same amount, regardless of the value of that building. The idea is, it takes a certain amount of resources to fight a fire at a 2,000-square-foot house, no matter how much value the land it sits on has.

“It’s generally seen as more fair,” Asst. Fire Chief Bob Eastman said.

A prospective benefit charge also could not exceed 60 percent of the proposed operating budget for the RFA, and would have to be re-authorized every six years.

The RFA Planning Committee is expected to choose between those two financing options in the coming weeks. The committee is also reviewing several governing options and hopes to have an options selected soon. An RFA proposal is expected to go to the voters later this year.

To stay up to date on the RFA’s progress or to give your feedback to the RFA Planning Committee, visit its website at this link.

–Story and photos by Natalie Covate

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