Issaquah City Council balks at joining regional fire authority

August 2, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah is all but certain not to participate in a regional fire authority, due to concerns about higher property tax bills for city homeowners.

On July 26, City Council members indicated Issaquah should not proceed in the formation of a regional fire authority. Unlike Eastside Fire & Rescue, a regional fire authority could tax residents to fund emergency services.

Officials from Issaquah and rural fire districts formed a planning group in late 2009 to consider a regional fire authority in the EFR service area.

“We did that so we were at the table and could participate in the discussion as we went through a process,” Councilman Fred Butler said at a Committee-of-the-Whole Council meeting. “We’re at the point right now where, I think, it’s fairly obvious which way we want to go. It’s not to our benefit or to our citizens’ benefit.”

Contributions from member cities and fire districts fund EFR. Issaquah contributes about $5 million per year to the agency.

Issaquah homeowners contribute 76 cents per $1,000 in assessed value for emergency services under the existing arrangement.

Early estimates for a regional fire authority indicate the cost for emergency services could rise to $1.17 per $1,000 in assessed value for Issaquah homeowners.

“It doesn’t seem like a good deal,” Councilman Tola Marts said.

Under the existing arrangement, the city uses dollars from the general fund — the account used to fund police and fire services, community development and planning, parks and recreation, and municipal government — to pay for emergency services, rather than a separate property tax.

“It doesn’t seem like a good deal and, in fact, it’s not a good deal for a couple of reasons,” Butler said. “Right now, we pay for fire service out of the general fund. Our citizens don’t see that. If we move toward a regional fire authority, there would be an item, a charge to property owners for fire service, and they would see it.”

Rural fire districts 10 and 38 led the effort to envision a regional fire authority. Under the existing structure, residents in rural fire districts pay more for emergency services than Issaquah homeowners.

District 10 includes Klahanie, May Valley, Preston, Tiger Mountain and Carnation. District 38 includes unincorporated King County near North Bend and Snoqualmie.

Other cities in the EFR framework, such as Sammamish, expressed little interest in creating a regional fire authority.

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

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