Funding fire service per call could cost Issaquah

January 15, 2013

By Caleb Heeringa

Issaquah could contribute more to Eastside Fire & Rescue if the regional agency changes to a funding model based on the amount of calls each member produces.

Meanwhile, Sammamish could trim fire service costs by $156,000 and $314,000 per year if EFR partners — Issaquah, North Bend, Sammamish, and fire districts 10 and 38 — agree on changing the funding model.

For Issaquah and North Bend, the change could substantially increase the amount the partners pay to EFR in the name of maintaining the agency’s current incarnation beyond 2014.

A committee of elected officials and staff members from each partner met last month to discuss the implications of using call load as a factor in determining how much to charge.

Under the existing system, EFR bases a partner’s yearly bill on the assessed value of property covered by each station. Sammamish officials have long complained that this unfairly charges its residents for stations where firefighters spend more of their time responding to Issaquah and to Klahanie in Fire District 10.

(District 10 also includes residents in May Valley, Mirrormont, Preston and Tiger Mountain in the Issaquah area, plus Carnation in rural King County.)

Committee members discussed using a hybrid model — either 75 percent assessed value and 25 percent based on the amount of calls produced or a 50-50 split.

Making fire bills reflect the use of specific stations would raise Issaquah’s yearly contribution to the agency by about $246,000 under the 75-25 model, and as much as $492,000 under the 50-50 split.

North Bend would also see a rise in its fire bill — about $76,000 under the 75-25 model and $151,000 under the 50-50 split.

Issaquah and North Bend representatives pushed for the 75-25 split, while Sammamish leaders continued to advocate for a 50-50 split — something they have demanded since last year. Sammamish has threatened to pull out of EFR if its demands are not met.

If EFR were to change its funding model, attendees at the Dec. 20 meeting discussed phasing in 5 percent increments per year to help Issaquah and North Bend adjust to the change.

The city councils and fire commissions of each partner would have to approve any changes to the funding model before re-entering the interlocal agreement that underpins EFR.

Sammamish Mayor Tom Odell, an EFR board member, said the calculations confirm what he and others have suspected for years, that charging partners based on the value of their property does not accurately reflect the amount each partner uses the fire service.

“I think it shows everybody, not just (Sammamish representatives), that there’s a problem out there that has not been addressed,” he said.

North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing said he had mixed feelings about the proposed changes to the funding model.

Hearing said it is in the best interest of his city to keep the EFR partnership together, because the city and other partners realize significant cost savings by spreading administrative costs across five partners. But a 9.7 percent increase in the annual fire bill would be hard to stomach, regardless of whether it is phased in or not, he said.

“We pay about half of what we would if we were running our own fire department —we get a screaming hot deal (with EFR),” Hearing said. “But having to pass along increases like that at a time when money is tight in the city budget would be difficult.”

By the numbers

Issaquah and North Bend would see more expensive fire bills if Eastside Fire & Rescue started charging partners based on the amount of calls that originate in their territory.

Sammamish and King County fire districts 10 and 38 would save money if EFR were to change funding models.

Below is the percentage change in payments for each partner based on different funding models.

Partner 75 percent assessed-25 percent calls 50 percent assessed value-50 percent calls 100 percent calls
Issaquah 4.8 percent 9.7 percent 23.1 percent
North Bend 9.7 percent 19.5 percent 47.6 percent
Sammamish (-2.8 percent) (-5.5 percent) (-11.65 percent)
Fire District 10 (-1.1 percent) (-2.2 percent) (-7.3 percent)
Fire District 38 (-6.85 percent) (-13.7 percent) (-29.8 percent)
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