Arlington asks voters to decide fire department annexation

The department would join a regional fire authority if voters say “yes” in a Feb. 9 election.

ARLINGTON — Only two city-run fire departments would remain in Snohomish County if Arlington voters approve a proposition on the Feb. 9 special election ballot.

The city hopes to pass a measure to annex the Arlington Fire Department into the North County Regional Fire Authority. It would mean the fire department joins a larger organization with more resources, without costing taxpayers much more money.

The Arlington department is bankrolled by the city’s general fund, which also pays for police, roads, parks, trials and other community services.

“As our call volume and demand increases, we are going to keep taking a bigger piece of the pie of that general fund,” Fire Chief Dave Kraski said.

If approved, property owners would pay a fire and EMS levy directly to the North County Regional Fire Authority. At the same time, the city would reduce its general property tax levy and repeal its EMS levy and ambulance utility fee.

More than half of Arlington property owners would save money or pay the same amount for emergency services, while 28% would pay about $60 more per year and 18% would likely pay more than that, according to the city.

A calculator to see how property taxes would change is available at arlingtonwa.gov/RFA.

As it is, the Arlington department does not have much backup if equipment needs repairs. Any emergency expenses would come from taxpayers. If the department joins the fire authority, it automatically has access to more resources and staff, Kraski said.

The North County Regional Fire Authority covers about 110 square miles in north Snohomish County that have a population of more than 25,000 residents. The Arlington Fire Department serves about the same number of people.

Call volumes are also similar at about 5,000 a year, though that number is expected to grow in Arlington as more people move to the city.

At this rate, city funds would be down more than $379,000 by 2025 if the department does not join the fire authority, city data show. A deficit would continue to grow, reaching upwards of $3.6 million by 2029.

Annexation would only affect the Arlington Fire Department, and not Fire District 21, which serves rural Arlington.

Kraski believes most people might not even notice a change.

No jobs would be lost, no fire stations would change and firefighters would continue to be involved with the community. Annexation would take effect in August.

Arlington and the fire authority already partner in some ways. The two share a medical services officer, fire marshal and community paramedic, as well as training programs and part-time emergency personnel.

Chief John Cermak is the head of the North County Regional Fire Authority. If annexation moved forward, Kraski would become assistant chief, a role he would be happy to take on.

Besides Arlington, Mukilteo and Everett are the only other cities in the county that have their own departments.

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

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