Marysville fire recruit Brian Donaldson holds onto his helmet as he drags a 5-inch line 200 feet in Snohomish County’s first fire training academy, through an obstacle course at the South Snohomish Fire & Rescue training ground in March, 2018 in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Marysville fire recruit Brian Donaldson holds onto his helmet as he drags a 5-inch line 200 feet in Snohomish County’s first fire training academy, through an obstacle course at the South Snohomish Fire & Rescue training ground in March, 2018 in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Editorial: Vote yes for Marysville regional fire agency, levy

Voter approval would recognize an effective partnership and provide funds needed for public safety.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Voters who live in Marysville and within the borders of Fire District 12 are being asked to make a long-standing relationship official — the “marriage” of the fire district and the city’s fire department into a regional fire authority — by approving what amounts to a joint checking account.

If approved by voters in the April 23 special election — for which voters should have received mail-in ballots — the two fire agencies will become the Marysville Fire District, and with that new district will be a change in how property owners in the combined district are taxed, along with an increase in that tax.

Since 1992, the two fire and emergency agencies have operated in partnership, coordinating and assisting in emergency response for about 80,000 residents on 60 square miles, while maintaining separate government and taxing authority. The combined agency would collect revenue at the same tax rate for all property, $1.45 per $1,000 of assessed value.

For District 12 homeowners that represents an increase from the current rate of $1.02 per thousand, and amounts to an annual tax of $435 for the owner of a $300,000 home. Marysville residents will pay the same amount, but the city plans to reduce its general fund property tax 62 cents per $1,000 to $1.15 in 2020. The 83-cent net increase for Marysville property owners would mean an annual additional tax for a $300,000 home of $249.

For city residents, the separate tax will also provide greater transparency regarding the costs of fire protection and emergency medical services.

With or without the marriage however, the finances for the city and the fire district were going to require an increase in support from taxpayers.

Budgets for both agencies have been constrained while costs have increased. Fire District 12 is facing a $2.5 million gap between revenue and expenses and is running out of reserves to make up that difference. The tight budget has meant fire stations have gone without improvements, including Lake Goodwin’s Fire Station 65, which was built by volunteers in 1963. Emergency vehicles — some now with 300,000 miles on their odometers — have gone longer without replacement than is recommended.

The fire district hasn’t sought an increase in its levy for 12 years, and the city and fire district are having to respond to a region that is growing in population and changing in the emergency services that they must provide.

Since 2000, the city and the district have grown by at least 20,000 residents and can expect continued growth with developments that include the Manufacturing Industrial Center now planned between Marysville and Arlington that could host an estimated 20,000 jobs by 2040.

The combined fire agencies, with more than 100 full-time personnel, responded to 15,435 incidents in 2017, an 11 percent increase from calls the year before. About 88 percent were emergency medical responses, while 7 percent were fires and 5 percent other responses.

The joint relationship between Fire District 12 and the City of Marysville has provided responsive service that has protected lives and property for 27 years. Making that relationship official and consolidating its management and tax authority should help ensure sustainable and stable funding; maintain public oversight; improve the combined agency’s cost-effectiveness and efficiency; and — with the hiring of additional fire and emergency staff — maintain and improve the level of service that residents and businesses now count on.

Approving a tax increase isn’t a decision that voters should make without consideration. But that consideration should include benefits provided as well as cost.

Officially combining the districts and strengthening its revenue base would address a structural budget deficit for an agency that provides one of the most necessary services to a community. A yes vote represents a commitment to invest in the safety, growth and the best interests of the neighborhoods served.

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