City Council approves revised fire service agreement; explores marsh options

Edmonds City councilmembers and Mayor Dave Earling listen to Department of Ecology staff Tuesday night.

Updated 1/25/17 with clarification on item moved to Feb. 7 consent agenda and those approved.

The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night dealt with two issues that have received significant attention in recent months. By a 5-1 vote (Councilmember Kristiana Johnson absent), the council approved a revised interlocal agreement with Snohomish County Fire District 1 that includes a reduction in fire station staffing. Councilmembers also discussed a state Department of Ecology letter regarding the Edmonds Marsh.

The marsh discussion drew a small crowd of citizens both to observe the discussion and testify during the public comment period Tuesday night. However, no one showed up to speak either for or against the Fire District 1 agreement, which had been the subject of passionate testimony late last year.

Councilmember Mike Nelson, who has steadfastly voted against the interlocal agreement due to the staffing cuts, reiterated his opposition. “I believe we all want the best fire service but doing more with less should be a last resort when it comes to our public safety,” he said.

Nelson noted that he has spent time out in the field with firefighters and believes that the plan to change how the city’s three fire stations are staffed will compromise the safety of residents who rely on those services. The contract calls for cutting two firefighter/EMT positions overall and distributing the two existing paramedic positions and a new paramedic across the three stations. Nelson said that means sending paramedics out on basic life support calls that could have been served by EMTs — and as a result those paramedics won’t be available for advanced life support situations. (Currently the city’s two paramedics are both stationed at downtown Fire Station 17.)

The city estimates that reducing overall fire staffing will save the city nearly $1.4 million yearly, and will also ensure more equitable availability of paramedics citywide. The council in a 6-1 vote agreed to support the concept at its Dec. 13 meeting, directing City Attorney Jeff Taraday to prepare language for an interlocal agreement that will update the city’s existing 20-year contract with the Fire District. On Tuesday night, Taraday explained some of the additional changes that had been made since the Dec. 13 meeting.

Among them:

– A provision to reopen contract negotiations if there is a significant drop in assessed property values of unincorporated Esperance. Since Fire District 1 services in Esperance are funded through property tax revenue, any long-term decrease in assessed value may prompt layoffs of Fire District administrative staff, Taraday explained. If this occurs, Edmonds would want to renegotiate the contract to reduce what it is paying Fire District 1 for overhead, Taraday explained.

– A process that addresses what happens if Edmonds and the fire district are at odds about how to implement changes or other mitigating factors — for example, how to increase staffing if fire service utilization increases. Under the proposed agreement, the city and the fire district each will propose their own “menu” of remedial measures, but the City of Edmonds gets to decide which measure to follow. The city’s choice would be open to mediation if the district isn’t happy with it.

– A change in language that states that the City of Edmonds prefers the fire district move away from 72-hour shifts for its employees, but that such a practice isn’t prohibited outright. This change was made in case the fire district additional flexibility during labor negotiations, Taraday said.

– A modification in the language allows the city to subcontract Fire District 1 fire services to the Town of Woodway. Under the latest revision, the fire district now requires the city to consult with them prior to subcontracting. The fire district can’t veto the subcontracting decision, and there will be no change in the contract payment unless the city requests additional fire staff to service Woodway.

– A proposal that any changes made to the formulas used in the agreement can be done administratively by the mayor and the city council president rather than involving the entire council.

The new contract also includes — in addition to the proposed staffing changes — 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. You can learn more about those details in our previous story here.

Fire District 1’s Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on the agreement at a meeting this Thursday, Jan. 26. If approved, it will go into effect Feb. 1, Taraday said.

When it came time to talk about the Marsh, the council heard Washington State Department of Ecology staff members address the details of a Jan. 10 Ecology letter responding to the city council’s proposal for buffers around the Edmonds Marsh.

The letter, written by Ecology Director Maia Bellon, noted that Ecology agrees with the city council’s proposal for a wider 110-foot buffer and a 15-foot setback for Edmonds Marsh, although it does call for a site-specific assessment prior to any future development in the Harbor Square area.

Ecology staff members Joe Burcar, from the Northwest Region Office Shorelands Section, and David Pater, shoreline planner, discussed the two options outlined in Bellon’s letter, which provide a more site-specific approach and a scientific study for the Urban IV Mixed Use Area that includes Harbor Square, located next to the marsh.

Option A: Would rely on a provision that is already in the City’s critical areas ordinance, which requires a special scientific study to identify whether there is an isolation between the critical area and the buffer. If this is shown to be valid through the study, the provision would allow for an alternative buffer to be established based on the site conditions and impacts. There is no buffer size limit under this option.

Option B: Would establish separate criteria for a site-specific assessment to determine what the buffer width is. This would require that there be a demonstration that redevelopment would provide an improvement to ecological function — including water quality and wildlife habitat. This option would limit the buffer width to no less than 50 feet.

“We didn’t intend them to be mutually exclusive,” Burcar said of the two options. “There could be some mixing and matching,” with the idea of the council deciding which ideas “resonated with your community.” Under both options, the default setback would be a 110-foot buffer and a 15-foot setback. Any proposed development would require a conditional use permit that would be reviewed both by the city and the Department of Ecology “to consider any reduction to the standard buffer,” he said.

The council discussed the pros and cons of options that the council may want to consider, with more details expected after city staff comes back with a possible third option — a mix of Options A and B — in the next few weeks. The staff report may be as early as Feb. 7; there is no council meeting next week since it is the fifth Tuesday of the month.

The Ecology Department has asked for a response from city by March 30.

The council also:

– Authorized Mayor Dave Earling to sign an updated interlocal agreement between the City of Lynnwood and the City of Edmonds that continues joint funding of the recycling coordinator position that serves both cities.

– Voted to move to the Feb 7 consent agenda an ordinance to re-establish an Edmonds Salary Commission (which had been eliminated in August 2014) that would review the salaries of elected officials. The five-member commission will be appointed by the mayor, with all appointments approved by the city council.

– Unanimously approved the following items: a $361,000 professional services agreement with The Blueline Group for the city’s 2018 Waterline Replacement Project and a $131,000 professional services agreement with the Davey Resources Group to develop an Urban Forest Management Plan.

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