Sammamish wants Issaquah to contribute more for plateau fire stations

August 21, 2012

By Staff

Issaquah could pay a larger share to keep Eastside Fire & Rescue stable, after officials in neighboring Sammamish asked for other partners to contribute more to correct perceived inequity in funding Sammamish Plateau fire stations.

Mark Mullet

The stations in question receive large portions of funding from Sammamish, but most incidents handled by crews at the stations occur in Issaquah.

Sammamish City Manager Ben Yazici met with representatives from Issaquah and Fire District 10 in recent weeks to discuss potential solutions to the funding issue.

(Fire District 10 is the EFR partner serving residents in Klahanie, May Valley, Mirrormont, Preston and Tiger Mountain in the Issaquah area, plus Carnation in rural King County.)

The discussion is centered on funding for Station 83, at 3425 Issaquah-Pine Lake Road S.E., and Station 81, at 2030 212th Ave. S.E.

Issaquah-headquartered EFR determines the bill for partners based on the assessed value of property in each city or district.

Sammamish pays for 62 percent of operating costs for Station 83, but produces 31 percent of incidents for the station. Issaquah, meanwhile, funds 8 percent of operating costs and produces 46 percent of incidents.

The retirement community Providence Point is responsible for a majority of Issaquah-bound calls from Station 83.

For Station 81, Sammamish funds 98 percent of operating costs, but the city is responsible for 72 percent of incidents. Issaquah pays for 2 percent of operating costs and produces 19 percent of incidents.

In July, Sammamish Mayor Tom Odell suggested Sammamish and Issaquah could create some sort of “cost-sharing” agreement for Station 81.

The question is whether Issaquah is willing to spend more to appease Sammamish. Issaquah is already facing about $800,000 in increases in EFR expenses in the next several years, due to increased homebuilding and a fire station addition.

Issaquah leaders set aside $4.7 million for EFR in the 2012 municipal budget.

Odell acknowledged the difficulty for Issaquah representatives to convince taxpayers to pay more for the same quality of fire service simply to appease Sammamish, but he said explaining the inequities to Sammamish taxpayers is also difficult.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow for Sammamish to be subsidizing calls to Issaquah and District 10,” he said. “The knife cuts both ways.”

Arrangement ‘is designed to work’ for partners

Issaquah Councilman Mark Mullet, a representative on the EFR board, is skeptical of possible cost-sharing.

Mullet said Issaquah officials briefly considered switching response plans to Providence Point. EFR crews could respond to Providence Point from stations in the Issaquah Highlands and along Northwest Maple Street within accepted EFR response times, though the change could add 90 seconds to emergency response.

However, such a change does not affect the financial issue, Mullet said, because Station 83 costs the same amount to operate, and removing Issaquah from the equation only means a cost increase for Sammamish and Fire District 10.

Though Mullet acknowledged the inequity EFR’s assessed value-based funding system causes for Sammamish and Station 83, he said the arrangement works for Issaquah.

“Our revenue stream is based off of assessed value — it’s kind of working how it is designed to work,” he said.

Under the existing arrangement, Issaquah 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 EFR and emergency services.

EFR Chief Lee Soptich said agency leaders remain hopeful about a solution to the Station 83 issue.

“I think that there’s a sense that if they make some headway on those costs … some of the other issues will take care of themselves or evaporate,” he said.

Sammamish representatives proposed EFR consider a hybrid funding model based partly on the amount of calls produced by each jurisdiction.

Soptich said the idea ran into reality in recent meetings because no partner is going to support a change to the funding model to make taxpayers in a particular city or district pay more.

Besides Issaquah, Sammamish and Fire District 10, EFR partners include Fire District 38 and North Bend. District 38 includes unincorporated King County near North Bend and Snoqualmie.

A 50-50 split between assessed value and usage, as proposed by Sammamish, could mean a $540,000 decrease for Sammamish. Under the proposal, Issaquah could pay about $740,000 more and North Bend could face a $290,000 increase.

Soptich said EFR leaders do not have a preference for how the agency is funded, provided the money is there.

“If they want to do everything based on bake sales and car washes, I don’t care,” he said. “At the end of the day we know the cost of the services we provide.”

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