City council June 11 to consider resolution requesting South County Fire annexation

(Courtesy South County Fire)

The Edmonds City Council at its Tuesday, June 11 meeting will consider a resolution expressing the city’s intent to proceed with annexation into the South Snohomish County Regional Fire Authority (RFA) — which would ultimately go before voters in the next year.

The council on May 28 voted 4-3 to delay the resolution, instead deciding to  meet in a work session to further discuss the implications of the draft resolution. (The council did, however, pass a related resolution May 28, which identifies joining the RFA as the preferred alternative for Edmonds.)

The council’s debate about fire and emergency medical services comes as costs continues to increase under the city’s current contract with the RFA, also known as South County Fire. 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.

During the June 4 work session, councilmembers discussed revisions that Fitch made to its report in late May at the council’s request. The original Fitch report assumed the city would need to procure all new apparatus and equipment, estimating an initial capital investment of $6,751,000. That investment would contribute to total annual debt service estimated at $2.2 million per year — and suggested a timeline for delivery of new equipment that could take 36 months. But on May 28, Fitch provided additional analysis of equipment costs, based on an amended fire services contract, approved in 2017. That amended contract 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. This includes all rolling stock and equipment in use at the fire stations at the time of acquisition.

During the June 4 work session, the council heard that the revised equipment buyback analysis indicates an estimated initial capital investment of $3,375,500, a reduction in equipment-related debt service from $811,749 to $405,875, and the timeline for acquiring that equipment would be immediate, upon contract termination. Assuming the apparatus and equipment are halfway through their 10-year useful life, Fitch indicated this equipment would need replacement within five years, and suggested options of a pay-as-you-go or establishing a replacement fund.

What those new numbers indicate is that the $18.8 million cost of creating an Edmonds Fire Department “is near parity” with the $18.7 million cost of joining the Regional Fire Authority (RFA),” Councilmember Neil Tibbott said during the study session. However, he noted that $18.8 million to restart the Edmonds department would provide “basic fire service,” which doesn’t include current services provided by the RFA such as waterfront fire suppression, rescue services and community paramedic services. Councilmembers also learned about a range of other costs that could be involved in restarting an Edmonds Fire Department.

If the council approves the resolution that it intends to pursue annexation, the city and the RFA would meet to discuss terms and conditions of annexation, which includes updating contracts and agreements. After that, the RFA grants the city’s request to annex and the resolution is placed on a special election ballot for voters to decide. The likely date of that ballot measure would be in April 2025.

Also during the June 11 meeting, the council is scheduled to pass — as part of its consent agenda — an update to the city’s accessory dwelling unit code, which the council discussed at length June 4. Assuming final approval, the city will put into place regulations governing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) — both attached and detached — in Edmonds. The council has been discussing regulations related to ADUs for several years,  but the Washington State Legislature forced the issue with passage of House Bill 1337 in 2023. The City of Edmonds currently only allows attached ADUs, but under HB 1337 it must allow up to two ADUS per lot (attached or detached) by June 2025. The city has been moving to implement the regulations sooner so that they can be included as part of the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update.

The council will also:

— Receive an update on the city’s transportation plan, a mandatory element of the 2024 Edmonds Comprehensive Plan update. Learn more about that in our report here.

— Hear a proclamation recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, Public Safety Complex, 250 5th Ave. N. You can also attend and comment remotely via this Zoom link: Or participate by phone: +1 253 215 8782. The webinar ID is 957 9848 4261.

Regular council meetings beginning at 7 p.m. are streamed live on the council meeting web page (where you can see the complete agenda), on Comcast channel 21 and Ziply channel 39.

  1. I can only hope the Council (and Mayor) provide “full transparency” and announce in advance what they intend to do if citizens vote NO to joining the RFA due to the increase in property tax. WHAT IS PLAN B?

    The City is obligated to provide municipal services which includes emergency services. This whole issue is as much (or more??) a budgeting “game” on a different approach to increase revenue (i.e., increased property taxes) than it is a process for determining adequate emergency services.

    The Council and Mayor should not be taking the expected costs of fire and EMT services out of the City’s budget (and putting a new burden on taxpayers) without first being “open” with citizens – – exactly what programs, projects, personnel, and expenditures would otherwise have to be cut to restore a balanced budget (that includes current and increased costs for emergency services).

    Let taxpayers KNOW what City expenditures they will otherwise be PAYING to preserve if they vote YES to joining the RFA.

    Note: I’m hoping that by making my comments here, rather than at a Council Meeting, that other citizens will join in demanding some accountability in City government.

  2. Joe-
    again you’re 100% right about lack of full disclosure and transparency from the Mayor and Council on the budget deficit and potential South County Fire annexation. and a Plan B , if the voters reject annexation. There are dozens of open questions and issues about fire/ems alternatives – especially the cost and pro-forma financial plans for either an RFA annexation or an Edmonds Fire Dept. The Council is blindly pushing forward with annexation with having a negotiating strategy or without having answers to critical operational questions about the out-of-ccntrol RFA business model. The most important question is whether the Council will commit to cutting taxes to reimburse residents for the current $12M cost of fire/ems services, or will they simply keep the $12M to help fix the budget deficit – and then force taxpayers to absorb a $19M in taxes paid directly to the RFA. The Council seems to think all they have to do is endorse annexation, and the tax consequence will fall out of the sky. They don’t have taxpayers’ backs and they aren’t demanding that RFA commit to future cost controls, productivity improvements, optimizing fire station numbers and location, or managing per resident and per service call costs. The RFA needs to be put under a microscope to explain their pathetic history of cost escalation. Time for a Taxpayer Advocate Alliance.

    1. Talking about runaway costs, during the Council workshop last week it was mentioned that the RFA is going to their Board asking for an additional 10-15 staff. For what? Have they increased their service area boundaries? No. All participating municipalities seem to be content with the current level of service, so what are the new employees going to be doing?

      And let’s not forget, if we join, we will not have a voting position on the RFA Board for a year or two. Yet they get access to our tax base immediately.

      1. Not only is the RFA asking for 10-15 add’l staff now, but look at the 2020 revised ILA (Exhibit C) between Edmonds and RFA. Between 2017 and 2020, the RFA added 9 staff – and doubled firefighter wages and benefits from $1.2M to $2.4M annually. What changed between 2017 and 2020? NOTHING! The RFA has a bloated management hierarchy, a total lack of taxpayer-centric focus, zero cost containment initiatives, and a conveniently ‘hidden’ assessed value-based tax levy system that is unapproachable and inequitable – since property based taxes are based more on land value assessments than building values, and have no correlation with the cost of providing fire/ems services. The RFA is a giant boondoggle – and should be dismantled at the State level. Maybe local and State legislators will wise up to the sham mantra of regional fire districts who say that ‘regional scale’ offers lower costs and more efficient fire/ems service delivery compared with individual cities. It’s totally bogus – as proven by South County and their runaway costs and 70% tax increases post-annexation for Brier and Mountlake Terrace. It’s time to stop the regional fire district charade!

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