Arlington and North County Fire to consider annexation

If the Arlington City Council decides to move forward, voters would make the final decision.

The Arlington City Council will discuss asking voters to consider annexing its fire department to North County Fire & EMS. (North County Fire)

The Arlington City Council will discuss asking voters to consider annexing its fire department to North County Fire & EMS. (North County Fire)

ARLINGTON — Voters may soon have a chance to decide the future of the Arlington Fire Department.

The Arlington City Council plans to discuss annexation between the fire department and North County Fire & EMS during two upcoming meetings, on Monday and Nov. 2.

The council is expected to make a decision during the Nov. 2 meeting. If it approves the plan, the proposal would appear on the February 2021 special election ballot.

If voters say yes to the proposal, someone who owns a home worth $400,000 is expected to pay an extra $60 per year, according to the city.

Costs for the fire department come from the city’s general fund. Property owners pay a general tax levy, where about 65% goes to the fire department. Utility customers also pay a monthly ambulance utility fee.

As call volumes increase, the fire department competes with other city services that also use the general fund.

So far this year, call numbers are down by about 300 compared to the previous year, city administrator Paul Ellis said. He believes the numbers are lower because of the pandemic and people not wanting to risk exposure to the coronavirus. Call volumes are beginning to rise again, he said.

If the annexation moved forward, property owners would pay a fire and EMS levy directly to North County Fire. The city’s ambulance utility fee would be eliminated and the general property tax levy would be reduced, the city said in a news release.

General fund money now used by the fire department would go toward traffic improvement projects, Ellis said.

According to the city, annexation would end up being more cost-effective for taxpayers. That’s because it would reduce the need for more administrative staff, emergency personnel and equipment. No workers would be laid off if it were approved, Ellis said.

Plus, North County Fire has more resources, such as special rescue teams, that could benefit those who live in the Arlington department’s coverage area.

“With a bigger agency we can better provide those services,” Ellis said.

Arlington has partnered with North County Fire for a couple years now. The two already share a medical services officer, fire marshal and community paramedic, as well training programs and part-time emergency personnel.

This decision would only affect the Arlington Fire Department, and not Fire District 21 that serves rural Arlington.

Visit www.arlingtonwa.gov for more information and to access city council meetings, scheduled for 7 p.m. the first and third Monday of each month.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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