Mukilteo renews negotiations with Fire District 1

MUKILTEO — Mayor Jennifer Gregerson is renewing negotiations to merge the Mukilteo Fire Department into Snohomish County Fire District 1, which already serves most of southwest county.

A meeting is planned tonight.

“I’m hoping that we will have a decision in four to six months,” Gregerson said.

Mukilteo, like many south-county cities, has spent years talking about ways to regionalize fire-protection service. Previous negotiations with Fire District 1 had gone stale, including talks of a regional fire authority that would have covered unincorporated south Everett down to the Snohomish-King county line.

“We never really finished the conversation,” Gregerson said. “We haven’t really ever gotten down into the details, into an apples-to-apples comparison of what it costs to run our department and what it would cost to contract.”

Fire District 1 already serves Brier, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. Fire District 1 and Mukilteo have been talking about a potential contract on and off for about 18 months. They took a break during the election season, said David Chan, chairman of Fire District 1’s board of commissioners.

“There’s a lot of duplication of services and costs that each jurisdiction incurs right now,” Chan said. “We can pool all our resources together and create a much better service for the region.”

Emergency services were a touchy subject after the city’s annexation efforts failed in 2010. Fire District 1 asked for a government review of the annexation, expressing concerns. The district’s union firefighters also actively campaigned against it.

Both the Fire District 1 union and the city fire union contributed to Gregerson’s campaign, state election records show. The union presidents issued a joint statement in recent weeks in support of the potential merger. It would save the city money and streamline services, including fire prevention, training and emergency response, the statement said.

“Both locals look forward to working with each administration as contract talks move ahead,” according to the statement.

In Snohomish County south of Everett, 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.

Mukilteo has two fire stations, one off Harbour Pointe Boulevard and one in Old Town. Crews responded to 2,211 calls for help in 2013, according to the annual report.

Fire District 1 currently is proposing that the city pay it $4.7 million a year for fire service. That’s subject to negotiation, Gregerson said.

The two agencies already share one battalion chief position and a ladder truck. They would negotiate staffing for each station.

“All of our firefighters would be welcome to move over to District 1 and keep their jobs,” Gregerson said.

The Mukilteo Fire Department budgeted $100,000 for firefighter overtime for each of the past two years. Actual spending was more than double that, in part due to injuries and folks leaving for other jobs, Gregerson said.

A contract would offer a flat rate without those unexpected expenses, she said.

“There are some cost controls and efficiencies we can get with a bigger department,” she said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449;

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