Edmonds City Council members answer questions during an Edmonds City Council Town Hall on Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Edmonds City Council members answer questions during an Edmonds City Council Town Hall on Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Edmonds favors joining South County Fire — but not ready to commit

The City Council voted 5-2 to make annexation its favored option. The city has 19 months before the current contract expires.

EDMONDS — The Edmonds City Council took a step toward annexation by South County Fire as a solution to the city’s impending loss of fire and emergency services.

On Tuesday, the council voted 5-2 on a resolution to show the city’s “desire to pursue joining” South County Fire.

The resolution doesn’t force the city to pursue annexation, council member Neil Tibbott said. Instead, it directs Mayor Mike Rosen to focus on the South County option, while two other options — contracting with Shoreline or reestablishing the city fire department — remain on the table.

Vivian Olson and Michelle Dotsch voted against the resolution.

It’s expected to cost the city $17.8 million annually, equalling about $77 per month in property taxes for the average homeowner. Annexation is the cheapest and fastest to implement, based on an evaluation from an outside consulting firm, Fitch & Associates.

The same night, the council voted 4-3 to postpone another resolution that would have formally requested South County Fire to proceed with annexation, a decision some council members felt was too soon. The resolution was pushed to “a date uncertain,” Tibbott said.

The decision comes after South County Fire informed the council it would terminate its current contract with the city at the end of 2025. In a December 2023 letter, Fire Chief Bob Eastman wrote that Edmonds pays less than other cities in the region, as the demand for fire and emergency services continues to increase.

The Fitch report evaluated three options at a council meeting in April:

• Be annexed by South County Fire. This option would take 18 to 24 months.

• Re-establish the Edmonds Fire Department that dissolved in 2009. This option would take about 36 months, the report noted. Estimated cost: $19.2 million annually, $79 monthly for the average household.

• Or contract services with the Shoreline Fire Department. This option would take 24 to 36 months. Estimated cost: $24.9 million per year, $93 monthly for the average household.

Re-establishing the Edmonds Fire Department would take time because the city would need to purchase all new equipment, which can take between 20 to 36 months, according to the Fitch report.

With the termination of the contract just 19 months out, City Council member Jenna Nand said annexation is the only option that fits within the city’s time frame. The other two options are “largely theoretical,” she said in the meeting Tuesday.

“When we look at realistic timelines, it is incumbent upon us to request annexation now,” Nand said.

Other council members felt uneasy committing to annexation just yet.

In Edmonds’ contract with South County Fire, the city has the option to purchase its former equipment from the fire authority, potentially making re-establishing the Edmonds Fire Department faster and cheaper. The Fitch report only states the city would need to order new equipment to re-establish the department.

Council member Dotsch said after finding out this new information, she wanted to hold back on pursuing annexation with South County Fire, until the city fully understands how the equipment buyback could affect the cost and timeline of the three options.

“I think it would be confusing to pass this resolution when we are in the process of taking in new information,” Olson said.

Nand said the equipment from South County Fire is old and would likely need to be replaced anyway.

If the city does commit to the path to annexation, voters will likely have the final say on a ballot measure.

Council members emphasized the need to put the question to voters as soon as possible.

”We can’t have an answer until we ask voters,” council member Susan Paine said.

Mayor Rosen said he would expect an annexation measure on the April 2025 ballot, if the city continues down this road.

“In case they decide not to join South County Fire,” council member Will Chen said, “we as a city need to come up with a plan B.”

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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