Council votes to pay retroactive Fire District 1 bill, push for contract changes

After receiving what essentially amounted to a pay first, talk later ultimatum from Snohomish County Fire District 1, the Edmonds City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to cover a $1.6 million invoice for retroactive wage increases for the district’s firefighters and paramedics– then work toward fixing the original city-Fire District 1 agreement to avoid future billing surprises.

Councilmember Lora Petso abstained from voting, stating that the Fire District had not responded to all of the questions the city raised about the increase. “I do not have sufficient information to determine what is due,” she said.

Mayor Dave Earling and city councilmembers were taken aback last August when Fire District 1 presented the city with the invoice — originally for $1.67 million — following settlement of a union contract with Local 1828. Since that time, Earling and Finance Director Scott James have had 12 meetings with Fire District 1 officials to take a closer look at the numbers and determine next steps.

On Tuesday night,  Earling, James and City Attorney Jeff Taraday outlined what has taken place since that invoice was received and the options available to the city.

“Candidly, it has been very difficult getting some of the information from the Fire District that we have requested over the last several months,” Earling told the council. “In addition, until we pay the bill they are not willing to entertain any negotiation with the text (of the contract).

James explained that he and Councilmember Petso had an opportunity to meet with representatives from the Washington State Auditor’s Office, who had recently completed an audit of Fire District 1’s financial statements. “The bottom line is, the auditors found that their (Fire District 1’s) cost increases were justified,” James said.

James attributed the large bill to the fact that Local 1828 had deferred wage increases during the economic downturn and “they had a lot of ground to make up” when negotiating a two-year contract that included retroactive pay increases.

When Edmonds, along with the cities of Mountlake Terrace and Brier, received bills last August for two years of retroactive pay, representatives from all three cities indicated they were taken aback by the amount of the increase. Earling and James said in an interview Oct. 1 that all signs they saw pointed to minimal increases.

But in an interview with My Edmonds News on Oct. 22, Fire District 1 Chief Ed Widdis said the cities shouldn’t have been surprised by the increase, since it really represents a 3.5 percent annual increase over five years, given that two years of pay was deferred. “Yeah, maybe they (the cities) didn’t pay like they did in 2010-11 because everything was status quo,” Widdis said. “We enjoyed that in the sense of not paying for it for four years but it (the increase) will get you sooner or later,” he said.

Taraday told the council Tuesday night Edmonds has no choice but to pay the invoice. “The city received a service from the Fire District and the city now has to pay for that service,” the city attorney said, noting that “the auditor has confirmed that what we are being billed for is the actual cost of the service.”

Taraday added that it creates major problems for the city to not to be able to identify its fire costs at the time it is preparing its budget — which was the situation that occurred last fall because Fire District 1 was still in contract negotiations. The city had been hopeful that the Fire District would be open to trading the city’s willingness to pay the bill for changes to the contract language aimed at addressing future billing procedures, but “that is not going to happen,” Taraday said.

Instead, with the city’s agreement that it will begin making quarterly payments over two years to cover the bill, the Fire District will reopen negotiations on the contract, beginning in February. Among the changes the city will push for during those negotiations:

– Requiring supporting documentation from Fire District 1 for the financial formula that guides contract negotiations for proposed firefighter salary increases.
– Requiring that the Fire District submit to the city by Aug. 31 of each year  “a reasonably probable range” for both how much labor costs will increase and the city’s contract payment for the next year. Those ranges — to be developed by “an independent consultant who specializes in representing management in labor negotiations” — are aimed at allowing the city to budget for “a reasonable worst cases resolution of any ongoing labor negotiations.”
– Adding two city-appointed representatives to attend bargaining sessions between Fire District 1 and Local 1828. These representatives wouldn’t be able to vote on the contract but would be able to observe proceedings and ask questions.
– Requiring that the District Fire Chief, during his annual report to the City Council, “present various options for providing services to the City more efficiently and/or more effectively under the agreement.”

James noted that the Fire District did agree to reduce the $1.67 million bill by $63,631.19 — bringing the total retroactive invoice to $1,604,060.81. The reason was that the Fire Marshal assigned to Edmonds “had to share a portion of his Edmonds work schedule with service areas outside the City,” James said, adding that a similar situation existed for the Fire District’s public education staff.

In another action item during Tuesday’s meeting, which was mostly a study session, the council authorized by a 5-1 vote approval of a lease agreement between the city and the Edmonds Senior Center. The agreement will allow the center to move forward with a fundraising campaign for a new multi-generational activity center. The plan is to replace the existing city-owned waterfront facility at 220 Railroad Ave., which has serious structural problems including a sinking first floor, inefficient design and seismic concerns. Councilmember Kristiana Johnson voted against the measure, stating the council should “pause and reflect” before agreeing to a “$20 million decision.” She also expressed concerns that the senior center is located on the other side of the railroad tracks, where emergency access is an ongoing concern due to increasing train traffic.

The council also:

– heard presentations on the Edmonds Downtown Alliance Grants Program, a supplemental agreement for the final feasibility study of the Willow Creek Daylight project, and Master Use and Site Use Agreements for installation, operation and maintenance of Sprint wireless equipment in the city right of way.

– discussed draft ordinances aimed at consolidating and clarifying the city’s animal regulations, which will be the subject of a public hearing during the Feb. 3 council meeting. Assistant Police Chief Jim Lawless and Development Director Shane Hope noted that the proposed changes are mainly aimed at addressing animal-related disturbances — in particular those involving barking dogs. The idea is to replace an automatic misdemeanor charge for an animal making continuous noise, with a system of graduated fines that could escalate to a possible misdemeanor for the owner of a repeat offender.

– continued discussion of the Draft Land Use Element for the city’s 2015 Comprehensive Plan Update. Hope noted that the city will host an open house Feb. 25 for citizens so they can learn more about the Comprehensive Plan. It will run from 5:30-7 p.m. in the third-floor Brackett Room of City Hall.


  1. I was told another side of the story by a source within Snohomish County Fire District 1 whom I consider to be reliable.

    According to my source, the Edmonds City Council was informed of the pending retroactive pay increases when the Council negotiated with the Fire District to contract for firefighting services within the city. As part of the contract, the Fire District purchased the Edmonds’ city fire trucks and other assets for $10 million.

    The Fire District advised the Edmonds City Council to set aside a portion of that $10 million to cover the retroactive pay raises. The city council failed to do so and is now registering “shock” upon being presented with a bill for the retroactive pay increases.

    If my information is incorrect, I encourage someone with more reliable info to come forth in the interests of transparency of government and a well-informed citizenry.

    1. The city sold the rolling stock to FD1 for just over $1.4 million.

      The contract with FD1 says the following about future increases for the services provided by FD1: “4.2 Contract Payment Adjustment. The Contract Payment shall be adjusted each
      year no later than September 1.” That clause should have caused the city to budget (make accruals) each year for increases. While they did not know the precise amount of those increases, they could have budgeted based upon historical amounts. Now the $1.6 million payment will cause a reduction in the city’s contingency fund.

      And there are provisions in the contract for retroactive increases; that’s why city council voted to pay FD1’s invoice.

  2. Ron’s right, doesn’t matter if the FD “advised” or not, our system did not make sure that funds were established for the obvious impending liability, and we are all culpable. It also sounds like Edmonds got a bottom line deal in that actual cost increases were lower via the FD than our own performance history before the selloff. If so, then it was a good council decision to sell assets and align with the FD. We are paying the same amount now ($1.6m) as if we knew the amount all along, this simply puts the hurt on contingency funds for a bit. With efficient governance in the next cycle, we’ll be ok.

  3. …old adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” …kind of makes one wonder…

    And with all of overspending on 5-corners round-a-bout, Main street, etc. and we are running out of money…

  4. While it sounds like a good decision to fold our protection into FD1, I would hope that along with the merger comes representation. In particular, we need someone (voting or not) at the table during discussions to be a liaison with our city personnel to keep us informed along the way. Blindsiding surprises benefit no one.

  5. Many municipalites across the country have volunteer fire departments……Sixty nine percent, to be exact.

    I guess I’m wondering why we are hooked into this?… me the “retroactive pay” particularily in one of the historically largest downturns in our country, seems NUTZ!………….and I guess I’m now really wondering about the unusual amount of behind closed door sessions at each and every (last week one at the beggining and one at the end) Council meeting implemented by our Mayor using the “potential litigation” every time……Every meeting?!…..and WHERE are all the minutes to those meetings behind closed doors? There are laws regarding open government, which includes the public’s right to know.

    the current Washington State Open Public Meetings Act, adopted in 1971, contains the following preamble:

    The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. RCW 42.30.010.

    open goverment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.