In the end, the Edmonds City Council debate over whether to pay Snohomish County Fire District 1 to provide fire service to Edmonds residents — at the cost of $6.2 million — focuses on two things: saving money in the short run and moving the city closer to what many officials think is inevitable anyway in the long run: a regional fire service in southern Snohomish County,
During the last few weeks, as the City Council has considered the Fire District 1 contract proposal, it has heard testimony from firefighters, fire administrators and other city officials noting that even when a city like Edmonds owns its own fire service, it relies on other jurisdictions for help. Regionalization of fire service, they argue, allows participating jurisdictions to realize economies of scale, reducing overhead costs and increasing the level of service on the street.
So it was no surprise when the Council agreed Tuesday night to move forward option No. 4 — which calls for Edmonds to retain its fire stations, land and emergency medical services fees but sell the fire apparatus and equipment to Fire District 1 — for another public hearing next Monday, Nov. 2, and likely council approval. Under Option 4, all city fire staff would become Fire District 1 employees and the city would pay the Fire District quarterly to cover the personnel costs, for less money than the city would pay if it retained its own fire service.
The other option on the table was to do nothing, and leave the City Fire Department intact, but it became clear during the course of the evening that no one supported that choice. “If we do nothing, we will lose $21 million more than we take in over the next seven years,” Councilmember Ron Wambolt stated while speaking in favor the proposal.
Council President D.J. Wilson expressed reservations about contract language requiring that the city has to wait five years before it could get out of the agreement, and also must give two years’ notice, meaning that it would be seven years before the city could resume its own fire service, if that proved necessary for any reason.
But Edmonds Fire Chief Thomas Tomberg said he is optimistic that any talk about revisiting the contract will be irrelevant. “I hope we won’t have a contract for 20 years,” he said. “I hope we look at a regional fire authority.”
Citizens will have one more chance to comment regarding the contract during the Monday, Nov. 2 meeting (moved ahead a day so that it doesn’t conflict with election day, Nov. 3). Contract documents, including the city’s budget analysis, can be found on the city website.