Future of Marysville fire service on hold for talks with Arlington

MARYSVILLE — There won’t be a decision about the future of Marysville’s fire protection service for a few more years, most likely.

The Marysville City Council on Wednesday voted to enter talks with the city of Arlington about creating a regional fire authority, a new government body that would levy its own taxes.

Under the current arrangement, the city of Marysville and Fire District 12 jointly operate the Marysville Fire District through a contract. That partnership covers 55 square miles, including within the city limits, Lakewood and some parts of the Tulalip Indian Reservation and Smokey Point. The contract is expiring this year.

Fire District 12 has been invited to join the talks with Arlington, and its elected commissioners are expected to take a vote by mid-September on whether to get involved.

The fire district and the city of Marysville have shared control of firefighting resources since 1991. In recent years, they’ve had trouble deciding what the future of that partnership should look like.

If, down the road, Marysville decides to form a fire authority with Arlington, state law would require a public vote before anything could happen. Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring released a statement Thursday on the council’s decision, saying it was the result of careful deliberation.

The Arlington council also voted last week to support getting talks started. The hope is to find a “more sustainable funding model,” Arlington Fire Chief Bruce Stedman said.

Fire departments around Snohomish County have been talking about various kinds of mergers. Those conversations generally take years to play out and don’t always result in change. Firefighters, police and their respective chiefs are among the most expensive public employees, and advocates of consolidation say it reduces overhead.

For Fire District 12, the biggest question that remains is who will be in charge of the local fire service, said Gary Bontrager, who serves on the district’s board of commissioners. The fire district and the city have been going back and forth for years now on how many elected representatives each should have when it comes to making decisions about firefighting and emergency medical services.

“Governance is the most important part of this,” Bontrager said. “It’s typically where things fall apart.”

The Marysville firefighters union, Local 3219, was glad to see the council’s vote was unanimous, said Capt. Dean Shelton, the secretary-treasurer. The union in July launched a public campaign, which included social media. It also picketed over an earlier proposal that had the city starting its own solo fire department, without the fire district.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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