Fire district contests Mill Creek annexation

  • John Santana<br>Mill Creek Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:39am

A move by the Board of Commissioners of Snohomish County Fire District 1 to contest the annexation of 387 acres into the city of Mill Creek has surprised residents and Mill Creek officials.

It also could jeopardize the entire annexation.

The move came during the commissioners’ April 5 meeting. The item was not on the agenda before the meeting began, surprising some at the meeting.

“We weren’t expecting any sort of decision to be made,” said Lisa Hopp, who was among 10 residents from the annexation area who attended the meeting to offer their support to the annexation.

“I was so shocked, so stunned,” Hopp said. “I couldn’t believe those actions took place in a public forum.”

The vote to contest the Mill Creek annexation was 3-1, with Joan Miller opposing the measure. Commissioners Brian McMahan, Larry Hadland and Charles Graham favored the move. Commissioner Jim Kenney was out of town.

The move drew a negative reaction from some Mill Creek city officials.

“They’re people who should be looking out for the betterment of the community, and it’s bad governance that they would only think of themselves,” Mayor Terry Ryan said.

Interim city manager Mike Caldwell was equally blunt.

“The real losers here are the (affected residents).”

The city of Mill Creek has been working on a mitigation agreement with Fire District 1, interim city manager Mike Caldwell said. A similar agreement with Snohomish County was approved by the City Council on Tuesday. But with the commissioners’ move, the city has pulled the mitigation agreement off the table, Caldwell said.

“We’ve been trying to work with them in good faith about this,” he added.

McMahan defended the decision to contest the annexation.

“We did it to be upfront with the city of Mill Creek,” McMahan maintained. “I think it will make negotiations go faster.”

As for adding the annexation question to the agenda, McMahan said, “We have the opportunity at every meeting to add items to or delete items from the agenda. It’s not uncommon.”

Commissioners cited a variety of reasons for contesting the annexation, which covers areas north and east of the city, along the south side of 132nd Street SE and includes the Thomas Lake shopping center and a proposed Wal-Mart store.

Commissioners said the annexation would create an irregular fire-district boundary by omitting an area to the south between 35th Avenue SE and Seattle Hill Road that contains Thomas Lake.

“We need to make the boundaries regular and not have jagged edges,” McMahan said. “Personally, I am not opposed to the annexation, I just wanted a fixed boundary.”

The district would still have to serve the area, but its vehicles coming from stations to the north and northeast would have to go through Mill Creek to reach it, commissioners said. Mill Creek is served under a contract with Fire District 7 and the two districts use different dispatch systems, according to the commissioners.

“If both are going and didn’t know it, there’s the potential for a wreck,” McMahan said.

With District 7 serving the area to the south, the area in question becomes a jurisdictional island, saidHadland.

“It’s an illogical boundary,” added Hadland, who works as a paramedic for the Lynnwood Fire Department. “To me, it’s more philosophic.”

Miller echoed those sentiments, but added she opposed making a decision so early in the process.

“I thought it was premature to (contest the annexation),” Miller said. “We have until May 5 to do so.”

If the area is added to the annexation, the fire district will drop its objection, the commissioners said, despite the fact the district would lose $44,000 in annual property-tax revenue.

“It’s not going to harm us, particularly financially,” Miller said about Mill Creek’s annexation. “When we take the kind of positions we have to, we look at the whole district.”

But Ryan, a member of the city’s joint fire board with Fire District 7, had a different view.

“I went and met with them a couple of weeks ago and I listened to their concerns,” he said. “I was hopeful that we had addressed their concerns. Their actions surprise me. It just doesn’t seem reflective of the discussions we had.”

The county Boundary Review Board, which is reviewing the Mill Creek proposal, can expand or shrink the boundaries or leave them the same. If the fire district continues with its objection, hearings would be held at the county level, extending the process into the summer. The fire district has until the May 5 deadline to drop its objection without setting the hearing process in motion.

Whichever border is approved by the county will be voted on by the Mill Creek City Council. Ryan said the city has to add public works personnel and a couple of police officers to accommodate the annexation as it is proposed, and can’t afford right now to add any more.

“We don’t have the infrastructure to annex anything that might look nice on a map,” Ryan said. “We don’t have enough room to put the employees.”

Because of that, as well as projections that show many areas east of 35th Avenue SE could be a drain to city finances, a majority of Council members have stated their opposition to annexing land east of 35th. The reason the current annexation includes lands east of that road is because a Wal-Mart and a Home Depot are proposed for that area, and are expected to generate substantial sales taxes.

This isn’t the first time Fire District 1 has challenged an annexation. The district took on the city of Everett in 2000, contesting its annexation of Murphy’s Corner. One of the reasons was the district’s lawyers argued that annexations should be based on a public vote, not a citizen’s petition drive. The case eventually ended up in state appellate court.

Fire District 1’s commissioners meet again 7 p.m. April 26 at the Mariner Fire Station, 12310 Meridian Ave., in Everett, but they don’t plan to discuss the Mill Creek annexation, McMahan said. A public comment period takes place at every meeting.

Bill Sheets, a reporter at The Herald in Everett, contributed to this report.

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