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Published: Monday, March 28, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Cities float regional fire authority plan for south county

EDMONDS -- Cash-strapped cities in south Snohomish County are looking at cheaper ways to provide fire protection, and a regional fire authority could be the biggest contender.
Seven cities and two fire districts have appointed representatives to a planning committee for a regional fire authority. The committee will explore how a fire authority could work in south county. A second meeting on the idea is planned for Tuesday.
Down the road, each city and fire district will have to decide whether they want to be part of a fire authority, Edmonds Mayor Mike Cooper said.
"I think we vary in our enthusiasm about it, certainly, but I think everybody was willing to take a good, hard look at it," he said.
The plan for Tuesday is to decide who will be on the committee and how the committee will operate, he said. They hope to elect leaders, but it's probably too early to set a time line for what the group will accomplish.
Officials from south county cities and fire districts met in January to learn how a fire authority operates. They also heard from people who have formed them elsewhere.
Edmonds, Mill Creek, Mukilteo, Lynnwood, Brier, Woodway and Mountlake Terrace plan to participate, as well as Snohomish County Fire District 1 and Snohomish County Fire District 7. Merger plans for the fire districts fell through earlier this month after a year of talks.
Tuesday's meeting is planned for 7 p.m. in the Brackett Room at Edmonds City Hall at 121 5th Ave. N.
A fire authority could ensure the future of fire protection for south county cities, Brier Mayor Bob Colinas said. Consolidating resources might make sense at a time when cities are struggling to pay their bills.
Mill Creek officials want to have a seat at the table and watch what happens, city manager Tim Burns said. Mill Creek currently contracts with Fire District 7. Edmonds, Woodway, Brier and Mountlake Terrace contract with Fire District 1.
Whatever comes out of the talks could affect all of south county, Burns said.
City leaders still have a lot of basic questions about how a fire authority operates and pays for itself, Woodway town administrator Eric Faison said.
Woodway has had to make tough decisions in the past about how to provide fire protection, he said. So far, Snohomish County Fire District 1 has been the most cost-effective option.
City fire departments and firefighters' unions say they are paying attention to the talks, but it's not yet clear what role they'll play. A 2004 state law that authorized fire authorities says the planning committee must be made up of elected officials.
Representatives from city fire departments and fire unions may end up on subcommittees in an advisory role, Cooper said. The committee will need to decide how best to include them.
Lynnwood is encouraging its fire department administrators to attend the talks, Lynnwood City Councilman Ted Hikel said.
A fire authority would have to be approved by a public vote. It usually takes two to three years of planning to get to that point.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com
Story tags » EdmondsFirefighting

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