Council approves resolution on Regional Fire Authority annexation, accessory dwelling unit code update

L-R: Robin Ullman and Donnie Griffin accept a proclamation for Juneteenth. (Photo by Nick Ng)

Updated Wednesday with additional details.

The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved a resolution expressing the city’s intent to proceed with annexation into the South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue Regional Fire Authority (RFA).

With Councilmember Jenna Nand absent from Tuesday’s meeting due to illness, the final vote was 6-0.

The council also voted 4-2 to approve an update to the city’s accessory dwelling unit code, with Council President Vivian Olson and Councilmember Michelle Dotsch opposed.

And councilmembers heard a proclamation recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day to honor the history of African-American and Black people, their heritage, culture, achievements and contributions. Accepting the proclamation made by Mayor Mike Rosen was Donnie Griffin, founder and president of the Lift Every Voice Legacy and Robin Ullman, Edmonds Waterfront Center operations and outreach director.

Councilmember Neil Tibbott introduced the resolution for RFA annexation. “We want to move this forward because as we begin the annexation with South County [Fire], we have a significant number of negotiation points that we want to cover with the RFA,” Tibbott said. “And we can only begin negotiations once we pass this resolution.” Passage will ensure that “if the city gets  any ‘buts’ along the way and any conflicts we can’t resolve, we could begin planning a different strategy as soon as possible.”

The final decision on joining the RFA will rests with Edmonds voters, as the annexation will require their approval during a future ballot measure.

Councilmember Will Chen said that whether the city council decides to annex South County Fire or start an Edmonds Fire Department from scratch, the costs are “comparable.” But he pointed out that annexing would ensure the city receives “outstanding” services from  South County Fire staff who are already prepared and trained to do their job. Starting a new fire department would mean the city would need the city to “ramp up [human resources], hire 53 people and start developing training programs,” he added. “It’s a steep hill to climb.” 

Council President Vivian Olson said that creating a city fire department would take “an extraordinary level of initial ongoing effort and we’ll have inferior services compared to the RFA.”

“Many of the  costs that we are concerned about controlling are going to be a challenge to control in our own department as well,” Olson said, adding that fire trucks have doubled the costs since 2020 and the labor market is competitive. 

Olson said that she is hearing community members’ concerns about annexation but believes that the city should engage with South County Fire. “I think some of the things that we’re concerned about are going to get resolved during those upfront negotiations with the RFA,” she said. “I really do feel like they want us, and they’re looking to be a good partner with Edmonds.”

Councilmember Michelle Dotsch said she agreed with the other councilmembers about supporting the resolution. She said that she had considered supporting the idea of  a “two-station solution” instead of having three fire stations. While that approach would have saved the city money, it may not ensure an appropriate level of service for residents.

“I do think that starting negotiations does allow a level of conversation then to happen,” Dotsch said. “We had a lot of input from the community members and fiscally I think we need to be responsible as well to what we are bringing forward to the community when they have an option… to vote. If we’re not getting what we want for the city and the community, the alternative of starting our own should still have a parallel path as we move forward. 

Edmonds city councilmembers and Mayor Mike Rosen.

The council’s vote to seek RFA annexation comes after the city received notice in late 2023 that South County Fire intended to terminate its current 20-year contract with Edmonds, effective Dec. 31, 2025. In response, the council retained a consulting firm – Fitch and Associates – to analyze its options. With an eye toward costs, benefits and ease of administration, Fitch in mid-May presented three options: 

  1. annex to the RFA
  2. contract with the City of Shoreline
  3. re-establish an Edmonds Fire Department.

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.

The City of Edmonds started its own fire department in 1904. In November 2009, the city council voted 6-1 to disband the department to save money, entering into a 20-year contract with Fire District 1 (now the South Snohomish County RFA) to provide these services. In 2017, the fire district reorganized into what is now the South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue Regional Authority (RFA). With its new status, the fire authority no longer had to rely on funding from the jurisdictions with which it contracts for services, but rather allows it to be funded directly through property taxes. 

In recent years, nearly all jurisdictions in the fire authority’s service territory agreed to be annexed to the RFA (unincorporated areas becoming part of the RFA by default), including Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Brier and Mountlake Terrace. The exceptions are Mukilteo, which operates its own fire department, and Edmonds, which continues as the lone holdout with a separate contract.

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

In other business Tuesday night, the council also approved an update to the city’s accessory dwelling unit code, heard the latest on the city’s transportation plan – due by the end of the year – and approved an Edmonds Police Department request for a part-time social worker for six months. We’ll provide more details about those items in a separate story to come soon.

— Story and photos by Nick Ng


  1. The Council committed to continue with a parallel evaluation of the Edmonds Fire Dept alternative – and I hope that’s not just lip service. The 2-station solution was called out in the 2017 contract as an ‘optimal’ solution. Fitch priced in the 2-station solution annual operating costs at $13.4M – a huge reduction from the RFA annexation cost of $19M, or the Edmonds 3-station solution at $18M+. The 2-station alternative needs to be vetted, but even if the City sold two of the existing stations, and built a new one – it’s hard to believe that the net capital cost (net of 2-station land sales offsetting 1 new station land acquisition and construction cost) would be not provide an attractive ROI – given the $4-$5M annual operating expense savings! Other questions – who is going to do the negotiating for Edmonds? Does the City have a skilled and tough negotiator who is capable of getting price and service commitment concessions from RAF? Why has the Council not committed to keeping taxpayers whole and not double taxing them if Annexation goes through? Taxpayers now pay $12M in property taxes to pay for RAF contract services, and that will go up to $19M in 2026 that will be paid direct to RAF. Why won’t the City commit to lower its property taxes by $12M after Annexation?

    1. Good questions that need to be answered. In the meantime, the mayor is handing out candy and “happy talk” at the market.

  2. Kudos to Mayor Mike Rosen Donnie Griffin, founder and president of the Lift Every Voice Legacy and Robin Ullman, Edmonds Waterfront Center operations and outreach director. Well deserved. Good job and continued success to all of you. As far as the RFA is concerned I think we can listen to some more about why when the info is available. The approval of the PB DADU codes is unacceptable. 5 feet and 1-2 two feet from a persons owned fence behind these structures is going to be a huge problem. Not just the sadness and the anger but the legality of what happens when you try to dig a foundation that near another person’s fence. What happens to the old tree roots from the offended neighbors property. What happens if you damage or bump a fence…I think we need to fix this 5 foot set back idea before there are attorneys crawling all over these builders and owners of properties building these with no concern for damages or simply no caring for our tax paying citizens Tsk Tsk. Thank you to Council President Olsen and Council Member Dotsch. For caring about your citizens.

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