Fire districts 1, 7 will continue merger talks

CLEARVIEW — Leaders of two south Snohomish County fire districts have agreed to continue chewing over the pros and cons of a possible merger.

On Tuesday, commissioners with Snohomish County fire districts 1 and 7 merely set the table for that meal.

They’ll meet again in late March or early April. Staffs from both districts will give a rundown of their operations and answer commissioners’ questions.

“I think it is the way to go for our citizens,” Fire District 7 Board Chairman Roy Waugh said in the first of what is anticipated to be a series of meetings on the merger idea.

Other District 7 commissioners expressed initial concerns about keeping jobs intact, whether taxes would increase, and coordination of fire and emergency medical operations.

District 7 Fire Chief Richard Eastman agreed.

“I just think you have to identify what the deal killers are and get them out there right at the front,” he said.

Union leaders for both districts said they support connecting the two departments.

Not everyone is sold on the idea yet, however.

“I’m probably one of the naysayers,” said District 7 commissioner Gunther Hausmann. “I’m here to be educated.”

Newly elected District 1 commissioner Millie Judge said she plans to take a close look at any proposal.

“I think it makes some sense, but I do want to understand in nitty-gritty detail what the downside is,” she said.

District 7 provides fire and emergency medical service to about 60,000 people who live in mostly rural areas in the eastern portion of south county. On-again, off-again merger talks began in 2006 and ended in 2008. Last month, District 7 officials again broached the subject of consolidating the two districts.

District 1, the county’s largest, serves about 150,000 people in southwest Snohomish County plus another 70,000 residents of Brier, Mountlake Terrace, Woodway and Edmonds, who receive service through contracts with the district. District 7 has a contract with Mill Creek to provide fire and emergency medical services.

Waugh has said it makes sense to talk about either a merger or consolidation now because Deputy Fire Chief Rick Rauma, who oversees his district’s emergency medical services, plans to retire in June.

There are differences between consolidation and merger. If a merger is pursued, the two boards would be combined in to a single, smaller board. People living in both districts would get to vote.

If the districts opted to consolidate, however, operations and staff for the districts would merge, but both boards would remain intact and voters wouldn’t get a say in the matter.

Combining in some fashion is an idea worth exploring, backers say.

“I’m excited by the potential, but the proof’s in the pudding,” Waugh said.

Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429, ohalpert@heraldnet.com.

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