Mukilteo may join with Fire District 1 to save money

MUKILTEO — The city could be out of the fire protection business as soon as September.

The Mukilteo City Council on Monday reviewed a proposed contract with Snohomish County Fire District 1 to absorb the city’s fire department.

The contract likely will go to a council vote within the next few weeks, Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said.

The city also plans to hold an open house on the topic as the decision approaches, she said. Newly elected council members need to be brought up to speed.

“This is our first full discussion and the first of a few,” Gregerson said.

By her math, the contract could save the city more than $12 million over 20 years. The contract will cost about $5 million a year.

Mukilteo and the fire district have been in merger talks off and on for years.

Fire District 1 serves most of southwest Snohomish County and already contracts with the cities of Brier, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. In south county, only Mukilteo, Lynnwood and Bothell have kept their own city fire departments.

The Mukilteo Fire Department in 2013 had the equivalent of 29.5 full-time employees, including 25 firefighters and paramedics. The 2013 budget was $4.3 million.

Fire District 1 is expected to hire all of Mukilteo’s firefighters and fire department employees, except for the fire chief.

Former fire chief Mike Springer retired in May, and Assistant Fire Chief Brian McMahan has been serving as interim chief.

McMahan may join Fire District 1, but that would be negotiated between him and the district, Gregerson said.

The new contract was designed to begin Jan. 1, 2015, but it could start anytime after it’s signed, Gregerson said.

The number of firefighters and paramedics assigned to Mukilteo would stay the same.

The city’s savings come from paying a guaranteed flat rate, rather than weathering unpredictable costs, such as overtime spikes or repairs for a rig that breaks down, the mayor said.

“There’s more certainty with cost control,” she said.

The contract also covers fire marshal services, such as fire prevention education and outreach, code inspections and fire investigations.

Both the city firefighters union and the fire district’s union have expressed support for the merger.

As part of the draft contract, the fire district agrees not to oppose any future annexation efforts in Mukilteo — something that’s been a sore point, and a labor union battle, in the past.

“It takes that fight off the table,” the mayor said.

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

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