In its final meeting of 2016, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night made two notable decisions: directing the city attorney to prepare language for an interlocal agreement that will reduce staffing at the city’s three fire stations and approving funding for construction of the long-awaited Edmonds Veterans Plaza.
The fire station staffing decision, to be included in an amendment to the city’s existing 20-year contract with Snohomish County Fire District 1 that is still under negotiation, came after an hour of public testimony by citizens plus a few firefighters. All except one of the approximately 15 people offering testimony were opposed to the staffing reductions, which the city said will save $1.36 million annually and improve efficiencies across the three city fire stations.
Firefighters representing the International Association of Firefighters Local 1828 had argued that the numbers that the city council was relying on to make their decision — contained in a report prepared by consulting firm Fitch & Associates — didn’t accurately represent how fire staff spend their time when they are on calls, and made it seem that they are less busy than they are.
Councilmember Mike Nelson, who made it clear during last week’s council discussion on the matter that he was siding with the firefighters, was the lone no vote on the proposed amendment. “It is always expensive to save lives and it always will be,” Nelson said in a statement prior to the vote. “I believe we should prioritize saving lives over saving money.”
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis reiterated her opinion that the city council’s decision in 2009 to eliminate Edmonds’ Fire Department and instead contract with Fire District 1 was a mistake. The city council decided to review the existing Fire District 1 contract — and hired Fitch & Associates to help — after Fire District 1 commissioners threatened to sever its contract with the City of Edmonds unless Edmonds picked up the Town of Woodway’s share, Buckshnis said.
The fire district has been subsidizing a portion of the contract cost that used to be paid by the Town of Woodway until 2014, when Woodway instead entered into a contract with the City of Shoreline Fire Department.
During public testimony, several people said they would be willing to pay higher taxes for fire services, and one person suggested the idea be put to a public vote — an idea that Buckshnis said she would help with.
“If you are interested in doing a public safety levy, I will lead that charge,” Buckshnis said. “Because I think that’s how we should have done it in 2009.”
Under the original interlocal agreement, the cost of operating the three stations was planned to be split under a formula that had Edmonds paying 77.79 percent of contract costs, the Town of Woodway paying 9.13 percent and Esperance, essentially part of Fire District 1 because it’s unincorporated, paying 13.08 percent.
Staffing at all three Edmonds fire stations now looks like this: Fire stations 16 (on 196th Street Southwest) and 20 (in Esperance) have a captain plus two firefighters who also have emergency medical technician (EMT) training for basic life support (BLS) situations. Station 17 in downtown Edmonds has a captain and two firefighters/EMTs, plus two paramedics on staff around the clock. Those paramedics are sent to all calls throughout Edmonds – regardless of location – that require advanced life support (ALS) services that only they can provide.
The contract amendment proposed adding a third paramedic to join the two paramedics currently on duty and then reallocating one of the paramedics to each of the city’s fire stations, so they can better respond geographically to advanced life support situations throughout the city. Reducing the overall staffing will save the city nearly $1.4 million yearly. (The estimated Fire District contract payment for 2017 is $7,427,818.) This would reduce fire staffing from 11 personnel to nine.
In addition to the proposed staffing changes, the new contract includes several scenarios that would trigger a closer look by both the city and the fire district at the staffing levels to see if future adjustments need to be made.
These triggers include:
– If the unit utilization factor, the time required for fire and EMS calls, exceeds a factor of .25 – or 6 hours out of a 24-hour period. This provision recognizes that fire station employees, who work 24-hour shifts, also require time for other duties, such as conducting fire inspections, as well as eating and sleeping, James said. According to the Fitch & Associates report, this factor currently averages .10 – or 2.4 hours per day.
– If the neighboring unit utilization factor, which measures the reciprocal sharing arrangement among nearby cities to assist each other with fire and EMS services, falls out of balance based on a predetermined mathematical formula. The goal of this trigger, James said, is to answer the question: “Are we being fair in that reciprocal sharing arrangement?”
– If the transport balance factor – which covers the EMS fees received by Edmonds as well as nearby cities who may be providing mutual aid for Edmonds calls – is out of balance, also using a predetermined formula.
Under either of the first two scenarios, a 12-month monitoring period is triggered to determine if the situation is an anomaly or a pattern. Under the third scenario, involving EMS fees, a six-month review is required before any action is taken.
When it came time to approve the construction contract for the Edmonds Veterans Plaza, City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite explained that the low bidder was K-A General Construction for $290,967.92. That bid was considerably lower those received and rejected by the council in September because they were in the $450,000-$700,000 range — way above the architect’s estimate of $248,683.
Meanwhile, the citizens volunteer committee spearheading the Veterans Plaza fundraising was able to come up with additional dollars, and now has $525,000 available for the project — with another donor willing to contribute $50,000 more if needed, Hite said.
The audience, including veterans attending the meeting, broke out in applause after the construction funding was unanimously approved.
Construction on the Veterans Plaza is scheduled to start in January and be completed in time for Memorial Day in May. Located outside the city’s Public Safety Complex, the project will includes a new stone-clad wall with two waterfall feature elements; related mechanical, plumbing and electrical work; new paving, walls, stairs and handrails; new site furnishings and lighting; modifications to existing planting and irrigation; minor modifications to the existing parking lot and new utility connections.
In a related matter, the council later in the meeting also allocated $4,000 from its own 2016 contingency fund toward the plaza construction. In addition, the council approved two other projects for contingency funding: $9,800 for historic information panels along the Edmonds waterfront and at Yost Park and $5,800 for water quality testing meter for Edmonds-Woodway High School’s Students Saving Salmon group.
Also at the Dec. 13 meeting, the council:
– Recognized EWHS graduate and Western Washington University freshman Rondi Nordal for her tireless work with the Students Saving Salmon group. Nordal was recently chosen by the Snohomish Conservation District Board of Supervisors as its a 2016 Youth Conservation Leader. (See our article on that honor here.) Those in the council chambers gave Nordal a standing ovation.
– Heard a presentation from the Edmonds Downtown Alliance regarding its 2017 work plan and budget, and approved it unanimously.
– Received a report on the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s updated Flood Insurance Rate Map for the Edmonds area. Of the three flood plains in the city limits, the downtown area has expanded, the Shell Creek area has shrunk and the floodplain area by Lake Ballinger has stayed the same. FEMA will be opening a comment period on the proposed flood plains, which it has been reviewing nationally, at some point after the first of the year.
– Unanimously accepted $2.45 million in grant funding for construction of the 76th Avenue and 212th Street intersection improvements as well the addition of bicycle lanes alomg76th Avenue West.
The meeting was the last as council president for councilmember Christiana Johnson. The council will choose a new president at the first meeting of 2016.
— By Teresa Wippel