Cities name regional fire district, animal control top concerns

March 16, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah and Sammamish city council members met last week for a wide-ranging discussion about the challenges faced by the neighboring cities.

Talk about Klahanie Park, how the cities will provide animal-control services after June 30 and the future of emergency services dominated the March 9 meeting at Sammamish City Hall.

With county-run animal shelters set to end June 30, members of both city councils said no proposal exists yet to provide the services now handled by King County Animal Care and Control. Although, representatives from both cities said staffers continue to work on a solution.

A solution could result in a regional partnership among several cities, or individual cities could commission animal-control officers. Federal Way officials, for instance, announced a plan to form a city animal-services agency.

The cost of animal services and shelters will be the key factor for Issaquah and Sammamish. Neither city seems likely to take in enough money through animal-licensing fees to pay for a full-fledged animal-services program.

Issaquah, Sammamish and 30 other cities contract with King County for services, like responses to complaints about vicious animals, animal-cruelty investigations and pickups of stray animals. The agency responded to 194 calls in Issaquah and 225 calls in Sammamish throughout 2008, county figures show.

King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, whose district includes both cities, urged caution as municipal officials prepare for the transition.

“Be aware that this is a very volatile issue — probably one of the most volatile,” she said at the joint city councils meeting.

County officials acted after several reports showed problems with King County Animal Care and Control leadership, organization and operations.

Reports dating back to June 2006 indicated mismanagement had resulted in animal cruelty. Then, a 2008 report prepared by a consultant said the county organization had too few staffers, too little shelter space, failed to track licensed animals and had a strained relationship with volunteers. Another report delivered in December 2009 said the county used euthanasia drugs in excessive doses.

Lambert and other council members extended the original Jan. 31 deadline to close county-run animal shelters. The decision allowed County Executive Dow Constantine until June 30 to put together a regional animal-services plan.

“We have already extended the date once, and so, we have put in a substantial amount of money that we don’t have at this point, so I don’t think the county will be ready to extend too many more times,” Lambert said.

Sammamish observes fire planning ‘from the sidelines’

Issaquah officials encouraged Sammamish leaders to join a still-nascent plan to change the way local governments provide fire protection and emergency services.

Issaquah City Council members and officials from King County fire districts took the initial step last fall to consider a regional fire authority, and formed a planning group. The group met last month and organized the group.

“This is only a planning committee,” Issaquah Councilwoman Maureen McCarry said. “It’s not to establish a regional fire authority. It’s only to start seeing if it’s viable for any municipality or any fire district.”

Under a regional fire authority, the body would have the ability to tax residents within its boundaries. Contributions from each partner jurisdiction fund Eastside Fire & Rescue.

The arrangement has strained the relationship between Sammamish and emergency-service provider EFR.

Sammamish Mayor Don Gerend said the city had no intent to join the planning committee, but said a city staffer will attend future meetings of the group.

“We’ve been watching it from the sidelines because we had expressed concern about an RFA from the point of view of whether it makes sense for Sammamish taxpayers,” he said.

Participation in the planning committee does not commit Issaquah or the fire districts to joining a regional fire authority. Parties can withdraw from the process at any time. Forming a committee costs nothing to participants.

The planning process has no effect on the way EFR functions, but the formation of a regional fire authority could require adjustments to the inter-local agreement underpinning the agency.

“The fact that Issaquah is participating with the RFA planning committee doesn’t mean that we’ve made a decision,” Issaquah Councilman Fred Butler said.

“It’s an opportunity to look at what it would entail and answer some questions,” he continued.

Besides Issaquah, the group includes fire districts 10 and 38. District 10 includes Klahanie, Preston, Carnation, Tiger Mountain and May Valley; District 38 includes unincorporated King County near North Bend and Snoqualmie. Districts 27 — in Fall City — and 45 — in Duvall — also expressed interest in the regional fire authority.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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