City Council moves closer to fire decision; votes to allow chickens

The Edmonds City Council moved closer Tuesday night to deciding whether to approve the sale of City of Edmonds fire services to Snohomish County Fire District 1, agreeing to narrow the choice to two scenarios: 1) contracting for fire service, which would include selling fire apparatus and equipment to District 1, but retaining ownership of fire stations and the emergency medical services fees or 2) doing nothing. The vote was 5-2, with Council President D.J. Wilson and Councilmember Steve Bernheim dissenting.

Both Wilson and Bernheim expressed concerns that the council was moving too fast on the issue, without adequate information to make a decision. The two also noted that the council appears to have lost its focus about the real reason for considering the sale of the city’s well-regarded fire services: saving money. Instead, recent testimony by fire officials and rank-and-file firefighters has focused on how the sale would improve fire services, which was never an issue to begin with.

“I don’t think the question is about the services,” Wilson said. “It’s about the finances.” Wilson also voiced frustration that he has not been able to get from city staff the answers to questions he asked two weeks ago about the contract.

Regardless of whether the city agrees to sell its fire services, Wilson said, the move is a short-term fix for the city’s long-term budget deficit, and the problem will only get worse if the Tim Eyman-sponsored Initiative 1033 to restrict government spending is approved by state voters next month.

Bernheim added that it’s important to consider whether the fire service sale is the right thing to do if it doesn’t fix the budget shortfall. “If money’s the problem, let’s get the levy back on the table,” Bernheim said, referring to a council plan– now on hold — to put a levy request before city voters.

Added Councilmember Ron Wambolt: “No matter which of these (fire contract scenarios) we do, the city will still need to take a levy to voters next year. This is a temporary thing.”

During the public testimony phase, City Council candidate Diane Buckshnis once again urged the council to proceed slowly. “I’m still getting phone calls and emails,” she said. “People are still confused. We need to slow the process down — a few weeks, maybe a month.”

The Council will hold a public hearing on the final two scenarios next Tuesday, Oct. 27. More information on the budget implications of those options can be found on the city’s website.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to amend the city code to allow single-family homes to have up to three domesticated hens. The decision reaffirms the city’s commitment to sustainability by encouraging people to raise their own food, noted City Councilmember Strom Peterson.

In addition, the Council approved a motion by Wambolt to cut down four trees located at the northeast and northwest corners of 5th Avenue South and South Dayton Street, after a falling tree limb narrowly missed hitting a car last Saturday. The trees will be replaced by a variety that is better suited for that location.

  1. I agree with DJ Wilson and Steve Bernheim on the fire district decision. If we are trying to balance the budget, this one-time sale will not fix our budget for the long term.

    And no-one is questioning the quality of our fire services. Please stick to your guns, Councilman Wilson and Councilman Bernheim. You are asking the tough questions, which is your responsibility to the citizens.

    I like the look of the financial impact of the fire district, but I can only base this on the quick-and-dirty spreadsheets used in the meetings. I’d like to see the details that Councilman Wilson asked for.

    Is there some other reason to push this decision through quickly that we do not understand here?

    Todd Cloutier

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