Mountlake Terrace voters to weigh South County Fire annexation

The city council also passed a $1.69 million general property tax levy reduction to mitigate higher fire taxes.

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MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Property owners in Mountlake Terrace could see tax relief next year if voters approve annexation into South County Fire.

In a series of unanimous votes Tuesday, the Mountlake Terrace City Council approved putting the annexation on the April 25 special election, ending its emergency medical services levy and reducing its general property tax levy.

All of it is contingent on voters approving annexation.

The switch could cost property owners more in taxes for the regional fire authority’s services. But the council would cut the city’s general property tax levy collection by $1.69 million next year if the annexation vote is successful. That would offset some of the higher property taxes.

“I believe it is important for us to reduce the amount of property taxes paid by our residents the full amount of the fire services that we are paying for,” Council member Bryan Wahl said.

City leaders have discussed the future of fire and emergency medical services over the past two months. Its current 20-year deal with South County Fire expires at the end of next year.

If the city pursued a new long-term contract, it would pay a rate identical to existing members and residents of the fire authority. Assistant City Manager Stephen Clifton told the council that would be another $3 million from its general property tax levy, which covers most city departments including parks and police.

“The city is at a crossroads,” Clifton said.

The council considered reducing the general property tax levy revenue between $1.74 million, the full amount, and none of it as an incentive to voters. Council members said there are a lot of uses for that money if the city kept it, from road work to addressing derelict properties.

“I know the most feedback I get is that our roads are shameful,” Council member Steve Woodard said.

At the request of newly appointed Council member Rory Paine-Donovan, the council unanimously voted to reserve $50,000 of its current general property tax levy used for fire service as utility bill relief that residents could apply for. The other $1.69 million would “go back” to property owners through a lower levy rate to help offset the overall increase for South County Fire’s levies.

South County Fire has emergency medical and fire service levies, as well as a benefit charge based on building size and if the building is commercial or residential. Those amount to an equivalent levy of $1.22 per $1,000 of assessed value.

People who need emergency medical and fire services in Mountlake Terrace likely won’t notice a change if they annex into South County Fire, which already serves the city on a contract and out of the fire station on the civic campus.

Under an annexation agreement, the city could continue using the ground floor and ownership of Fire Station 19.

Last year, 75% of Mill Creek voters approved annexation into South County Fire.

Brier voters also will vote on annexation into South County Fire in the April special election.

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037;; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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