Council delays EFR funding consideration
October 29, 2013
By Peter Clark
Issaquah residents could end up paying more for fire protection in the next few years.
Issaquah City Council chose to delay discussing the concept of changing the Eastside Fire & Rescue funding model Oct. 21.
The EFR board asked all of its members to discuss the idea of changes Oct. 10. However, the Issaquah City Council voted 5-1, with an absent Tola Marts, to defer discussion until Nov. 12 with action Nov. 18.
EFR is a regional fire protection agency for Issaquah, Sammamish, North Bend, King County Fire Districts 10 and 38.
The resolution would have directed the two council members who sit on the EFR board to “continue to explore and understand the impacts” of a possible funding model built from 75 percent property values and 25 percent from call volume.
In an attempt to appease the city of Sammamish, and its long held consternation over what it considers an unfair funding model, the EFR board decided to ask members to discuss a model that would result in a 75/25 funding model.
Currently, funding is entirely based off of assessed property value and due to Sammamish’s relatively higher value and comparatively low number of calls, the city has long asked for a change in the structure or said it may leave the partnership.
Sammamish expects City Manager Ben Yazici to give his recommendation to the council on Nov. 5 and the council scheduled tentative decision on Nov. 12, the night Issaquah City Council plans to discuss the change.
A cautious council
The council met the proposal with great caution.
“Before we jump in here and say yes it’s a 75/25, I really think we need to step back and look at this,” Councilwoman and EFR board representative Eileen Barber said. “There are a number of firefighters whose families will be impacted, but so would the city of Issaquah and a number of other cities under this inter local agreement with which we’re working.”
While Councilman Joshua Schaer said “it doesn’t look like this resolution is doing much of much,” he still voted to examine it further.
Councilwoman Stacy Goodman hoped a few more weeks of further understanding would not affect Sammamish’s decision.
“I want to fully understand the latest discussions that are going on, and I don’t as of right now,” she said. “Just as our friends in Sammamish have, in my view, taken their time to be diligent in looking at what their options are and what they would like to do in the best interest of their citizens, we’re just doing the same.”
Councilman Joe Forkner, the other representative to the EFR board, warned the council’s delay might impact Sammamish’s decision.
“This whole 75/25 was a last ditch effort to see if there was any chance of keeping them with the organization,” Forkner said of Sammamish. “The rest of the partners have put it to their respective bodies to see if it’s something their interested in. I believe that if they don’t have an answer from us prior to Nov. 5, they will see that as a further stall and decide that they’re going to leave.”
Upon those grounds, Forkner was the sole vote against moving the resolution to the Nov. 12 meeting.
“I really believe that Sammamish is drawing a line in the sand and that our action tonight will be counter to what they want to see,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to support the resolution. I think it’s going to be too little too late.”
Yazici said the discussion should not have taken Issaquah by surprise.
“We’ve been talking about it for a couple of years,” he said. “It’s kind of puzzling that they’re deciding to schedule their decision on Nov. 18, six days after our council makes its decision. That’s the disappointing part for me.”
Cost of change
Either way, Issaquah will pay more.
According to EFR numbers, if the 25/75 funding model were adopted, Issaquah’s payments for EFR service would rise by 4.8 percent.
If Sammamish decides to leave EFR because of a lack of funding change, Issaquah, along with the rest of the partners, would have to make up the cost to retain the level of service.
“It’s going to cost everybody more,” EFR Deputy Chief of Planning Wesley Collins said. “Although we would have overhead coming down if Sammamish leaves, cost and service are still spread across four partners instead of five.”
The question remains whether a 75/25 model would cost Issaquah more than if Sammamish decided to leave the organization. Collins said several different scenarios existed should Sammamish leave and the most realistic ones mean higher prices for Issaquah.
“A lot of it is left to unknowns,” he said. “Most scenarios lead to more cost to Issaquah except the scenario where Sammamish continues to provide Fire Station 83 service out of the kindness of their heart.”
Representatives from EFR reacted to the council’s decision without much surprise. Both Tryon and Collins understood the council’s wish to look after what was best for Issaquah’s citizens.
“There you have people who have not been tracking EFR for many years, they did not understand the circumstances. They’re saying, and rightly so, they need to time to understand this and get up to speed,” Collins said.
Tryon reacted similarly.
“They’re doing the their due diligence,” he said. “Would I have liked them to adopt this fairly harmless resolution? I would say ‘yes.’ But I think it’s smart. They’re doing the right thing.”
However, he added the four other partners have agreed or are in the process of agreeing to either exploring the new funding model or extending the time frame of negotiation.
“All the partners but Issaquah have passed a resolution or something to say ‘yes’ to something,” he said.
Collins would have also appreciated across the board support, but cautioned Sammamish a decision might not happen from every partner immediately.
“We would have loved the partners to say ‘yes’ to these resolutions the next day,” Collins said. “But, we warned Sammamish that it’s going to take some time to get these through.”