EVERETT — Snohomish County Fire District 1 and the Lynnwood Fire Department are seeking voter approval for a merger.
They want to create a new government body called a regional fire authority. The authority would collect its own taxes to provide fire protection and emergency medical care.
Supporters say the move would streamline emergency services and make better use of public resources. Critics, particularly in Lynnwood, say they won’t have enough control.
If approved, the fire authority could be formed as soon as October.
The proposal calls for a interim governing board of seven, including two elected officials from Lynnwood. The plan eventually is to have a board of two at-large seats and five seats for geographic districts by 2021.
Lynnwood and District 1 firefighters work together on about 6,000 incidents a year. They also have been sharing management under a contract, including Fire Chief Brad Reading.
“It just makes sense to become one and do it together and more efficiently,” Reading said.
So what happens with taxes? Lynnwood City Hall can expect to see less revenue and spending in its overall budget when it stops providing direct fire service.
District 1 has a fire levy and an EMS levy. The city has an EMS levy, and the fire department also draws from the general fund.
The fire authority likely would seek its own tax measures in time. Under state law, it cannot change the rates without a public vote.
Jim Kenny, a District 1 commissioner, helped write the “pro” statement for the measure on the voters pamphlet. He says it makes sense to take a regional approach.
“Con” statement authors included Ted Hikel, a frequent critic of Lynnwood leadership who used to be on the council. He says he is not convinced the city will have enough representation or paramedic service with the fire authority. He says it would be “dominated by the fire district.”
Labor leaders are in favor of the merger. That includes Thad Hovis, president of District 1’s Local 1828, and Scott DiBenedetto, president of Lynnwood’s Local 1984.
They say the fire authority will save money and reduce response times.
To pass, the measure needs 50 percent of ballots cast from Lynnwood and the district combined. The cities that contract with District 1 for service — Brier, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace — don’t get to vote on the measure. They keep their current arrangement with the option of annexation.
Fire authorities are gaining popularity in Washington. Snohomish County has one so far, with headquarters in Stanwood. Another is being considered for Arlington and Marysville.
Fire and EMS levies on the Aug. 1 ballot in Snohomish County
Marysville: The city of Marysville seeks a lid lift for its emergency medical services levy. The money, which is collected within city limits, goes to the Marysville Fire District for EMS. The rate would be up to 50 cents per $1,000 of property value. The rate could be adjusted annually within that limit through 2023.
Monroe: Fire District 7, with offices in Clearview and Monroe, seeks a levy lid lift. The rate would be $1.50 per $1,000 of property value. The money goes toward fire protection and emergency services. The rate cannot increase without voter approval.
Snohomish: Fire District 4 in Snohomish seeks a levy lid lift. The rate would be up to $1.50 per $1,000 of property value. The money goes toward services, staffing and equipment. The levy would last from 2018-2023.