Council OKs amended fire services agreement, pauses Marina Beach Park project

The council and Parks Director Angie Feser Tuesday night discuss Marina Beach Park improvements, which had been scheduled to start in 2024.

Although a much-anticipated discussion on a proposed list of 2022 city budget amendments was delayed to a future meeting, the Edmonds City Council covered a range of topics Tuesday night.

For starters, the council unanimously approved — after much discussion — placing on next week’s consent agenda an amended agreement with South County Fire regarding Edmonds’ fire and emergency service imbalance. And it also unanimously agreed to return $1 million in Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office grants and push the pause button on proposed Marina Beach Park renovations, pointing to other more important priorities citywide.

Regarding the fire agreement, the council discussed a recent letter from South County Fire rejecting the city’s proposal to address a service imbalance that the agency identified in mid-2021. At issue is the neighboring unit utilization factor (NUUF), which is included in the city’s contract with South County Fire to provide fire and EMS services. It measures the amount of time that Edmonds units respond to calls for service outside of Edmonds and then compares that to the amount of time that non-Edmonds units respond to calls for service in Edmonds.

Under the contract, balance is achieved when those two amounts of time are within 10% of one another. However, South County Fire data shows that the neighboring cities are responding into Edmonds significantly more often than Edmonds units are responding into neighboring cities like Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. For example, the NUUF from Mountlake Terrace into Edmonds is 157% and Lynnwood into Edmonds is 252%. Those numbers would have to be at 110% to be considered in balance, and being out of balance triggers a reopening of the contract and brings the parties back to the bargaining table.

When the city council learned of this imbalance last fall, it approved plan — outlined in a letter by Mayor Mike Nelson — that proposed the city fund an additional 24-hour, two-person transport unit, starting Jan. 1, 2022 at an annual cost of $1.5 million. The unit was to be considered a temporary measure until South County Fire could negotiate with its union the logistics of converting it to two, two-person peak hour units (PAUs), which the city sees as a long-term solution. (Peak hours are defined as 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.)

South County Fire Chief Thad Hovis

However, in a letter dated Jan. 3, 2022, Fire Chief Thad Hovis replied that the agency couldn’t accept the city’s proposal to transition to the two, two-person peak hour units, stating that South County Fire doesn’t believe the city’s solution “would be adequate” to bring the city back into balance. Hovis also added that the city’s proposal would have to be bargained with its IAFF Local 1828 union, and the outcome of those negotiations “is not guaranteed.”

Instead, South County Fire has proposed staying with one 24-hour, two-person unit, at the same cost of $1.5 million. “That will be your service for at least a year,” City Attorney Jeff Taraday told the council.

Taraday said the fire agency will be monitoring the NUFF numbers for a year, “but the problem of course is, we believe that the two peak hour units is going to do a better job of addressing those factors than the single 24-hour unit will, and we’re not being given an opportunity to essentially prove that.”

The city attorney said it’s his expectation that the city will eventually again find itself out of compliance in 2023. “We’re going to have to hope that next year the fire authority will be more receptive to the city’s preferred remedial measure because we’re not being given the option to do that right now,” he added.

Some councilmembers said they felt that the council had no choice but to accept the offer. “We’re kind of up against a rock and a hard place,” Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said. However, Taraday pointed out that the council — if it desired — always can look at other options for fire service down the road. “The council has some time to consider whether this relationship is working long term,” he said, “or whether it wants to look at other possible arrangements.”

The City of Woodway contracts with the City of Shoreline for its fire and emergency medical services.

Under the current terms, either party can get out of the South County Fire contract with two years’ notice.

Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said she wondered if the city should be looking at whether it could save money in the future by joining the Regional Fire Authority, which voters in the City of Lynnwood and unincorporated areas approved in 2017. The vote consolidated Fire District 1 and the Lynnwood Fire Department to form South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue (SSCFR).

“I think I agree with your assessment,” Taraday replied to Johnson, adding that South County Fire “has pretty much said they would love for the city to join the RFA. If I was a South County Fire board member and I was trying to convince Edmonds to join the RFA, I would probably be doing what they’re doing.”

Councilmember Laura Johnson pointed out the service imbalance has existed since the city council — including some members who are currently serving– voted four years ago to amend the interlocal agreement between the two entities to change the staffing model. The amended agreement reduced the total number of firefighters on duty at any given time from 11 to nine, with the goal of saving an estimated $1.4 million annually. “I think there needs to be some recognition that the decision made (in 2017) wasn’t the best decision for us,” Laura Johnson said. “We’re a city that’s growing and we need adequate coverage here.”

Marina Beach Park (City of Edmonds photo)

When it came time to discuss the Marina Beach grant dollars, City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Angie Feser summarized the city’s plan to redevelop the 4.94-acre waterfront park. It calls for installing a playground, adding and renovating scenic overlooks, renovating the off-leash dog park, improving parking and pedestrian pathways, creating a launch for nonmotorized boats, and installing restrooms at two new entry plazas. The plan also includes creation of an open tidal channel for Willow Creek, a historically salmon-bearing stream that is currently piped under the park. Under the plan,  Willow Creek would be returned to the surface, its banks planted with native plants, and interpretive signs added along walking trails.

However, councilmembers agreed that moving forward with accepting grant dollars at this time would be unwise, given the city’s many other priorities, including its effort to ensure more equitable funding of parks citywide. “We for so long have put the focus on the downtown and the Bowl area,” Councilmember Laura Johnson said, “and it is really worth considering if this is the time to pivot and put those efforts into the underserved neighborhoods instead.”

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she agreed with Johnson about the equity issue, and also added that the city should wait until the ownership of the nearby Unocal property — currently under environmental cleanup — is resolved and then take a “holistic approach” to grant requests that could include Willow Creek daylighting and Edmonds Marsh restoration.

“I think it’s a great project for us someday,” Council President Olson added. “I just don’t think the timing is right, right now.”

Stating he agrees that now is not the time to move forward with the Marina Beach project, Councilmember Chen asked Feser if it would be possible to focus instead on ADA access issues that are “an easy fix,” not only at Marina Beach Park but at other Edmonds parks. “Yes, we can,” Feser said. “The ADA compliance issue is quickly becoming one of my high priorities.”

In other business, the council

– Heard a presentation on the City Park odor scrubber project, which was approved as part of the council’s consent agend. The odor scrubber is aimed at addressing  odors emanating from sewer gases in neighborhoods near City Park (see our earlier story here). The total cost of the unit to be installed at City Park is $400,313, which includes a $10,000 contingency and a $20,000 management reserve. Half of the expense will be covered by other jurisdictions that send their wastewater flows to the city’s treatment plant, including the City of Mountlake Terrace and Olympic View Water and Sewer District.

Lisa Ayrault of FairVote Washington — bottom row-center — speaks to the council about ranked-choice voting.

– Received an informational presentation regarding state legislation that would give cities the option of implementing ranked-choice voting if they chose to do so. One option would be to combine the primary and general elections into a single, high-turnout election using ranked-choice voting. Another option in the legislation: For offices that have multiple identical positions — like city council — a city can choose to have candidates run in a pool instead of by position numbers, with the top vote getters advancing. After hearing the presentation, Councilmember Chen said that if the measure passes the Legislature, the matter should be placed before Edmonds voters to decide whether to implement ranked-choice voting in the city. The Edmonds Civic Roundtable will hold a more detailed discussion regarding ranked-choice voting during its Monday, Jan. 24 meeting, from 4-5:30 p.m. at the Edmonds Waterfront Center, 220 Railroad Ave. Learn more about that meeting here.

– During the consent agenda (which is a list of items to be voted on with no discussion), appointed Robert White to the Edmonds Public Facilities District Board; Anne Nadreau to the Sister City Commission; and five members to the Edmonds Citizens’ Tree Board: Williams Grant, Andy Lyon, Janelle Cass, Wendy Kliment and Ross Dimmick.

– Heard a presentation regarding the city’s Non-Represented Employees Compensation Study, which mirrored our report from last week’s council committee meetings.

– Set Feb. 1 as a public hearing date for 2022 budget amendments, with a commitment to have a discussion on those items during a council meeting prior to that date.

Finally, during mayor’s comments, Mayor Mike Nelson addressed the issue of delayed garbage pickup by Republic Services in Edmonds, stating that “four weeks is a long time to have waste or recycling picked up. It’s unacceptable. It’s a health and safety hazard.” As a result, Nelson said, he has requested that a city complaint be filed with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, “because we need to have other options.” The mayor said he has also directed the city attorney to look at how Edmonds can contract directly for waste and recycling services. Currently, Republic Services operates under a franchise agreement with the State of Washington, so the city doesn’t have control. “I think that should change, so hopefully we can be able to hold our garbage services more accountable than we can right now,” Nelson added.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Reality finally hit the Marina Beach Park project. Based on only using other people’s money (grants), combined with the uncertainty of disposition of the Unocal property, and the political correctness of equity made the timing of the creek daylighting not feasible. Predictable after the scheme of inappropriately using sewer and water fees to subsidize the project was blocked. On the other hand, why wait years for the resolution of all these factors, to add reasonable restroom facilities down there. This high use park surely should needs them now regardless of the situation of the future of the marsh.

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