EFR board unanimous that outside facilitator is needed

July 9, 2013

By Michele Mihalovich

The Eastside Fire & Rescue board isn’t really known for unanimous decisions, especially when discussing the partners’ funding model. But at a June 13 regular meeting, they all agreed it was time to look at hiring an independent facilitator.

EFR is a consortium of Sammamish, Issaquah, North Bend and Fire Districts 10 and 38, but Sammamish officials have called the funding model unfair because it bases payments on the value of property rather than the number of service calls.

Sammamish officials had been trying to convince other members of EFR to switch to a funding model based 75 percent on property value and 25 percent on the number of service calls, but the other EFR partners rejected the proposal in March.

Whether Sammamish will remain as a partner has been a huge question mark among the group.

Fire Chief Lee Soptich compared what was happening with Sammamish and the rest of the partners to a similar situation he’s facing with NORCOM, the emergency dispatch system that provides service to 14 fire districts, including EFR, as well as several police departments.

A Detroit-based company called New World has been promising NORCOM a new CAD software system, but delay after delay frustrated Soptich so much that he gave notice to NORCOM that he intends to terminate the contract with them.

Soptich said at the EFR board meeting that his notice to the partners has caused friction among them, as well as his own staff and firefighters.

He said NORCOM leaders suggested a current analysis of the partners’ strategic goals and hired an independent facilitator to help with the process.

Soptich said that process has been fast-tracked for completion in 10 weeks, “but after only three weeks into the process, I’m impressed.”

He suggested the EFR board consider doing the same thing.

“This agency has never had a strategic plan,” Soptich said. “A lot of people say we can’t do that because we don’t know who is going to be here in seven years. But should that really be a consideration? … If we’re not clear where we want to go, how will we get there?”

Soptich told the board that he knows there are time constraints, but he sees the process as beneficial.

“Let’s not let the funding model drive our vision,” he said.

Issaquah City Councilman Joe Forkner, who is also a member of the EFR board, brought the EFR board’s decision to the attention of the June 25 Committee on the Whole meeting.

“Basically, we’re going to start from scratch,” he told the other three members of the City Council present at the quarterly meeting. “The board’s going to get together, figure out what the vision is and figure out what’s important to the agency as a whole.”

Issaquah City Councilwoman Eileen Barber, who is also a member of the EFR board, spoke with optimism about the possibility of an independent facilitator.

“I think it’s a great thing,” she said. “We’ve been trying to work together for financial planning for some time. You can get myopic in these situations. I actually think that a facilitator will be a great help to us.”

The rest of the board unanimously supported the decision and Soptich said he’d let the board know what he learned at the next regular board meeting in July, or sooner.

 

Reporter Peter Clark contributed to this story. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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