Council approves one fire service resolution and delays vote on another; study session set for June 4

Councilmember Neil Tibbott explains the recommendation to support RFA annexation as the council’s preferred alternative.

This article has been updated with information contained in a 2017 contract amendment.

The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night voted 4-3 to delay a resolution directing the city to begin negotiating terms of annexation into the South County Fire Regional Fire Authority. Instead, the council will hold a work session next Tuesday, June 4 to further discuss the implications of the draft resolution, which expresses the city’s intent to proceed with RFA annexation.

The council on Tuesday did pass a related resolution, which identifies joining the RFA as the preferred alternative for Edmonds. That resolution was recommended by the council’s public safety-planning-human services-personnel (PSPHSP) committee last week.

Both of these resolutions are an expression of the council’s opinion. Edmonds cannot join the RFA unless voters approve it via a ballot measure. And that vote would only occur after a formal process is initiated between the city and the RFA — which was the purpose of the second resolution that the council delayed deciding on Tuesday night.

Councilmembers voting to delay the decision on negotiating RFA terms were Will Chen, Neil Tibbott, Michelle Dotsch and Vivian Olson. Both Tibbott and Chen said that feedback from community members — plus some additional details from the consultant hired to review fire and emergency medical services options for the city — supported a decision to delay the vote.

Councilmember Jenna Nand spoke against delaying a vote, stressing the need to get RFA annexation information to the community as soon as possible.

Councilmember Jenna Nand spoke against the delay, stating that given the lengthy predicted timelines for implementing other fire service alternatives besides RFA annexation, “it would be prudent” for the council begin the annexation process. Nand was joined by Councilmembers Chris Eck and Susan Paine in supporting moving forward with the resolution indicating the city’s intent to proceed.

The council’s debate about fire and emergency medical services (EMS) comes as costs continues to increase under the city’s current contract with the RFA, also known as South County Fire. (Edmonds is the only city in Southwest Snohomish County that still contracts with the RFA; most others have annexed into the fire authority.) In late 2023, the city received notice that South County Fire intends to terminate its current 20-year contract with Edmonds, effective Dec. 31, 2025. (Read more background on this in our previous story here.)

In response, Edmonds retained consulting firm Fitch and Associates to analyze its options. In its report discussed during the Edmonds council committee meeting May 14, Fitch outlined three alternatives: annex into the RFA, contract with the Shoreline Fire Department for services or restart Edmonds’ own fire department. (Edmonds disbanded its fire department in 2009 when the city began contracting for fire services.) The Fitch analysis compared costs, benefits, implementation tasks and timelines, and pros and cons.

According to the Fitch report, restarting the Edmonds Fire Department would cost $19.2 million annually, most of which would go to personnel (Fitch estimated a need for 51 firefighters and five administrators to maintain the city’s current level of fire and EMS service.). The report also acknowledged widespread recruiting and retention problems, noting that the city would have to offer wages comparable to or better than the going local rates to attract and retain this workforce. Other expenses include purchasing equipment such as fire trucks and ambulances; debt service; repair and maintenance of fire stations; and miscellaneous other costs, including administration, payroll and human resources.

Regarding the acquisition of fire trucks and other equipment, the 2010 contract with the RFA states that rolling stock and equipment sold under the 2010 agreement “shall be purchased back using the same process, methods, and conditions under which the original purchase was made unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties.” An amended contract, approved in 2017, states that “like assets purchased by and transferred to the [South County Fire] District as part of the agreement shall be purchased by the city” at fair market value. The revised contract states this includes all rolling stock and equipment in use at the fire stations at the time of acquisition.

In its report, Fitch noted that any additional rolling stock would have to be purchased from the market, and that a “24-36 month lag between order and delivery is not unusual.”

The vote to pass the related resolution came after Councilmember Tibbott, who chairs the PSPHSP committee, stressed that the measure “does not obligate to the city to any one option. However, the intention is to bring focus to one alternative so we can begin to get answers more quickly.” The resolution authorizes the mayor to pursue next steps regarding the RFA alternative.

He noted that the committee, which also includes Councilmember Chris Eck, identified joining the RFA as the preferred alternative based on five factors: cost savings, operational continuity, cooperative agreements, service expertise and long-range planning. (See more details in the council agenda here).

Eck echoed Tibbott’s view that the vote won’t shut down discussion on other alternatives. “We take this very seriously. No one is charging ahead without doing due diligence,” she said. However, Eck noted the council will also consider both the benefits and drawbacks of bringing back an Edmonds fire department. “Things have changed since we had our own fire unit and it’s important to look at what is good for our city today and what should we be responsible for as a municipality,” she said.

Councilmember Susan Paine said she did a ride-along with South County Fire’s Community Resources Paramedic Program, which assisting patients in managing their health care to minimize 911 calls. “I know that people have asked, ‘Why couldn’t we bring back our old fire department,'” Paine said. “One of the benefits of having a larger organization…you can actually have services like this (the paramedic program) because of the economies of scale.”

Nand expressed her ongoing concerns with the council’s delay in pursuing the second resolution, stressing that voters deserve information sooner rather than later on the pros and cons of RFA annexation — especially with the South County Fire contract expiring in December 2025.

Olson and Dotsch argued that it would be confusing to the public to pass one resolution and not the other, and instead supported the idea of delaying a vote on the council’s preferred alternative until after the council work session next week. They both voted no on the resolution, which passed 5-2.

Councilmember Will Chen said it was important for the council to take extra time to study the second resolution before taking a vote.

Chen said that regardless of which option the council chooses for fire and EMS services, “the cost is going to be going up, but taking the time to do a thorough study is the right approach.”

In other business Tuesday, the council:

– Confirmed the mayor’s appointment of Everett defense attorney Neil Weiss as the city’s new municipal court judge. Weiss replaces former Municipal Court Judge Whitney Rivera, who was appointed to the Snohomish County Superior Court. 

-Approved issuing $11.7 million in bond debt to cover costs of annual stormwater and water main replacements and repairs; storm drainage and water infrastructure related to transportation projects; and repairs and upgrades to the city’s Yost and Seaview reservoirs.

— By Teresa Wippel



  1. One question and a comment.
    Was there no discussion of contracting with the Shoreline Fire Dept as an alternative?
    Joining the RFP will lessen the City’s expenses, but the cost will fall directly on the taxpayers, and we as individuals will have absolutely no way of negotiating the price with the RFA.

  2. Despite errors in their findings, Fitch Consultants had praise heaped upon them by some councilmembers. In Fitch’s report Fitch stated that two cities, Brier and Mill Creek, in SCF’s RFA had average home prices higher than Edmonds. That was old data; in 2024 Edmonds average price is higher. That’s relevant to Edmonds property tax payers because the RFA has a tax that’s the same for all cities – meaning that Edmonds would pay more than the others.

    When Fitch did an analysis of two of the options, an RFA and Forming Edmonds Fire Department, they overstated the cost of the EFD. They assumed purchasing all new equipment and having to recruit personnel from scratch. That’s not necessarily the case because the 2009 contract with the Fire District provided for the equipment and personnel being made available by the Fire District, just like they were made available by Edmonds at the start of the contract.

    The findings are being updated and will be presented in a couple of weeks, so councilmembers Olson and Dotsch urged waiting until then to vote on this important issue. Nevertheless councilmembers Tibbott, Eck, Paine, Nand and Chen were adamant about voting now and the five voted in support of the RFA. Olson and Dotsch appropriately voted against it.

    It is apparent that the five councilmembers always supported the RFA option. This is a typical case of “my mind’s made up, so don’t confuse me with the facts”. The five have said, let the voters decide. Well the council should be making the right decision. Going to the voters with the wrong proposal is needlessly spending many thousands of dollars on a vote.

  3. Robert, that’s the whole idea of joining the RFA – stick it to the presumed deep pockets Edmonds property owners for the service everyone in South County needs to have. You will notice that the three big time CM supporters of this RFA move are all associated to some degree with support from the State Democratic Party and the fire fighters union who have regional loyalties but not city. I do compliment Mr. Chen for his stance on at least considering another option. For example has anyone even thought about considering a more Independent RFA perhaps consisting of the cities of Everett, Mukelteo and Edmonds? We could call it something like the Salish Sea Regional Fire Service and have each town keep it’s own identity and management by mayors and citizens. The towns could share common things like recruiting, training, purchase of fringe benefits, shared types of equipment cutting down on duplication etc. It’s too bad that past bad government in Edmonds has put us in such a financial pickle that we seem to be “owned” by the needs of the South County RFA now. Our situation does not promote out of the box thinking, unfortunately, so we are probably stuck with going with the SCRFA option.

  4. Although some of the council members tried to force a public vote this November (illegally?) A delay will at least encourage the public to have a chance to scrutinize the plus and minuses with the RFA. Part of the playbook for the partisan council members who represents special interests seems to have no plan B in case public votes it down.

  5. With at least four of our current City Council Members, it feels like they always have someone besides just regular Edmonds citizens whispering in their ears, or like they are trying to serve two masters all the time. This makes a person feel like he/she almost has to be obnoxious just to get a contrary viewpoint heard by someone. So far Mayor Rosen doesn’t seem too interested in seeing that any views other than the general staff/Council/city attorney party line get an open airing with all thoughts and ideas put honestly on the table. I tried to watch that meeting last night but couldn’t take the canned comments coming from Eck and Paine claiming to be open to suggestion and unbiased on the fire issue so I switched over to the baseball game and had an enjoyable evening of good entertainment instead. I’ve all but given up on having any sort of a voice about services and changes of approach to problems so badly needed in our town but not getting done. It’s always about placating and catering to the special interests which has become very tiresome and repetitious. I know what people are going to say before they say it. It’s easier to just not care anymore.

  6. On a positive note, council learned from the public some ideas that may serve us well. Council should expand citizen input. Public hearings are a poor tool to gather ideas from the public and PH’s don’t allow discussion. Council should create a citizen panel to sort out potential inputs. They would then help evaluate the alternatives and finely serve as the “Yes Committee” for a levy. This group could ask “retired” council members to help. All meeting open to the public who will be urged to participate.

    Several options presented and/or suggested all end up costing in the range of $19-20m. Taxes paid for fire is around $10.4m. We need about $9m more for most of the alternatives.

    Edmonds has a total assessed value of $15B+, more than any city currently served by SCF. Our avg home cost is also higher than others.

    Council has budget issues beyond Fire. Here are some “Tax Facts” for Edmonds. To generate $1m the rate is around $.07/1000 or $70 for a $1m home. To generate the added $9m the rate would be $.63/1000 or $630 for a $1m home.

    I have created a Tax Model for council. They can enter an amount they would like to raise and it then creates the rate/1000 and the tax for a $1m home. It may help them for this budget cycle.

    1. The city’s current Public Hearing procedure is dysfunctional, with the hierarchy being upside down, the local citizens being at the bottom. Your noble suggestion to create a citizen panel to sort out potential inputs deems merit, although it’s doubtful that many current elected leaders or administrative staff are motivated any change to any protocol even with though currently unfunctional for citizen input.
      Your “Tax Facts” calculator is quite useful for the day when the repercussions for decisions comes home to roost.

  7. It’s hard to understand how two members of the Council can go out of their way to support Fitch for an ‘unbiased’ and ‘professional’ $45,000 study. With $8 million worth of holes in the study there is no way it reflects unbiased comprehensive financial analysis. It is simply a convenient vehicle to echo regional fire district (SCFD) mantra that scale makes everything better. The reality is that scale has done nothing for citizens of Briar and Mountlake Terrace – with 70% post-annexation tax increases. Edmonds taxpayers are paying $12M/yr for SCFD fire/ems services – and they will be expected to pay $18M/year in 2026. Why won’t the Council guaranty to refund the $12M in current city taxes to taxpayers to offset 2/3 of the $18M? Why won’t SCFD guarantee that taxes won’t go up more than COL and population growth? SCFD said 2 Edmonds’ fire stations are optimal, not 3 – which potentially could cut cost by 1/3. Why did Fitch not analyze that option? Why have SCFD costs increased by 300% vs. when Edmonds had their own fire dept in 2009? How can the Council be satisfied with the annexation alternative when there are so many red flags about regional fire mismanagement, lack of transparent financial reporting on cost per resident and cost per service call, and lack of cost control initiatives?

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