Eastside Fire & Rescue directors explore agency’s future structure

July 19, 2011

By Caleb Heeringa

Veto power among ideas being considered

The Eastside Fire & Rescue board of directors decided July 14 to form a sub-committee that will probe possible changes to its governance structure — including the veto power that individual partners now hold regarding adding additional partners to the agency.

EFR is an amalgamation of King County fire districts 10 and 38 and the cities of Issaquah, Sammamish and North Bend.

The study of EFR’s structure follows the completion of a different study that examined the possibility of a regional fire authority — essentially an independent taxing district that would have moved the fire services bill from cities’ general funds to residents’ property tax bills. EFR members have been pondering the future of fire service in the area once the agreement that underpins the agency expires in 2014.

Mark Mullet, an Issaquah city councilman and one of the city’s two representatives on the board, said the study showed that Issaquah residents would have paid $1.17 per $1,000 of assessed value for fire service under a regional fire authority; they pay the equivalent of 83 cents per $1,000 through the city’s general fund now.

Sammamish representatives Don Gerend and Tom Odell have said from the beginning that a property tax-based RFA likely wouldn’t work for cities like Sammamish and Issaquah that are flush with assessed value compared to neighboring rural fire districts. Sammamish is the only EFR partner that didn’t send an official representative to the RFA talks.

Though the Issaquah City Council has yet to formally consider the results of the RFA study, EFR Board Chairman Ron Pedee (who represents Fire District 38) admitted that it was “fairly unlikely” that the city would be on board. Given the impasse, Pedee suggested that the agency form a subcommittee “to figure out what tweaks we need to make to the (EFR) model going forward.”

“We’ve got something that works better currently than all of us having our own fire departments, but it doesn’t work as well as it could,” he said.

Pedee suggested the committee, made up of elected officials from each partner, could analyze some of the “deficiencies” that have created headaches in the past, including the veto power that any given partner has regarding adding other cities or districts to the agency. In the past Sammamish, citing financial concerns, has opposed efforts to add King County Fire District 27, which covers Fall City and is a literal donut hole the in the middle of EFR’s coverage area.

Caleb Heeringa: 392-6434, ext. 247, or cheeringa@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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