Fire District 7 asks to resume merger talks with Fire District 1

Two of Snohomish County’s largest fire districts may revisit the idea of merging.

On Feb. 21, commissioners with Fire District 7 delivered Fire District 1 a letter suggesting the two reopen talks that fell through a year ago.

Both districts have struggled to maintain services and staffing as revenues from property taxes have dropped. Since the economy tanked, fire departments around the county have been talking to one another about new ways to work together, share resources and survive.

Fire District 1, headquartered in south Everett, serves about 220,000 people in southwest Snohomish County. Fire District 7, with headquarters in Clearview, serves about 70,000 people in southeast county. Both districts also are participating in talks about forming a regional fire authority in south county.

The two districts spent most of 2010 and early 2011 in partnership talks. Disagreements over the proposed merger created major rifts among the commissioners at Fire District 7, and ultimately played a role in the district paying its chief $325,000 to retire early.

The November election put two new faces on Fire District 7’s board. The new board would like to meet with Fire District 1 as soon as possible, according to the letter.

An “incredible amount” of work went into the last round of talks, and much of that may be reusable, Fire District 7 board chairman Neil Doherty said Tuesday.

He hopes they’ll discuss all available options, including new partnerships, a consolidation or a merger.

“My proposal to District 1 was, ‘Let’s review where we were and see if we can move forward,’ ” he said.

Fire District 1 commissioners expect to respond to the offer in the coming weeks, vice chairwoman Millie Judge said. Both districts have seen budget and staffing changes, and they’ll need to update each other on what has happened in the past year.

“It’s fair to say (the offer) was favorably received by the board, and we’re looking forward to renewing our conversation,” she said.

The two districts may hold a joint meeting as early as March.

Meanwhile, Fire District 1 also is talking with officials in Lynnwood about combining some services. Both sides say they haven’t discussed a merger, but they also won’t rule one out.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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