North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Talks continue on Regional Fire Authority

 

Christopher Andersson

Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, right, Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, center, and consultant Karen Reed discuss the potential of an Arlington/Marysville Regional Fire Authority at a meeting on June 29.

Talks continue between the cities of Arlington and Marysville, and Fire District 12 about potentially combining their fire and emergency services into one Regional Fire Authority.

The three groups hired a facilitator/consultant, Karen Reed, to help survey the opinions of all the stakeholders.

"I would say there are a few strong supporters, and some opposed to it, but the majority seem to think, 'well, this might work, but I have these concerns,'" she said.

After seeing the results, many officials said that an RFA seems more possible.

"What it showed me is that there is a path to an RFA with the three of us, but there certainly are hurdles," said Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring.

"Looking at it on paper it doesn't feel as wide a gap as it did last month," said Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert.

The City of Marysville and Fire District 12 currently work together as the Marysville Fire District. As talks about the future of that partnership broke down last year, a possible district with Arlington emerged as an option.

All three groups are trying to find a "sustainable" model for their fire and emergency services.

Recent years have presented problems for the Marysville Fire District. Although staff has grown, "the call volume has increased at a much higher rate," said Fire Chief Martin McFalls.

"The most highly rated idea was the goal of securing a sustainable model for affordable fire and EMS service delivery and, of course, the catch there is what is affordable and what is sustainable," said Reed.

A Regional Fire Authority (RFA) could give the Marysville Fire District and Arlington Fire Department better economies of scale.

"We're truly duplicating services, especially in the Smokey Point area, with two close stations," said McFalls.

Between the two fire departments, about 340 hours were committed to services that were duplicated in the 2016 year, according to McFalls.

Marysville Fire District is also much larger and could provide more overhead staff.

"If we went into this we would be receiving Battalion Chiefs, a medical service training officer, so that is a big benefit for us," said Arlington Fire Chief Bruce Stedman.

McFalls said that Arlington would "be helping us equally with full-time staff, and those combined resources will outperform anything we can do independently," he said.

An RFA would be run as an organization independent of the two cities, and would be funded by a new levy.

Arlington and Marysville would stop collecting their own EMS and fire operations levies, but they still support their fire departments through the general fund.

It's possible that the cities would reduce some taxes to make the outcome tax neutral in the end, but that has not been decided.

"You're looking at a big chunk of your general fund currently supporting fire services, and if that is suddenly not needed for fire services, what will you do? Will you reduce your taxes, will you put more funds into other services?" said Reed.

Currently Marysville collects what would be the equivalent of a levy of $1.86 per $1,000 of assessed value and Arlington collects $1.88 per $1,000 of assessed value.

An RFA can issue a levy of up to $2 per $1,000 assessed value without voter approval.

Some officials didn't realize that the cities were already that close.

"It's not as if we were asking for the massive jump in taxes that I thought we would be," said Nehring.

Reed said that opinions were divided on whether an RFA should start at the maximum levy rate or start at a lower amount to begin with.

The issue of how an RFA would be governed could also be a sticking point for Marysville as well.

Marysville City Council member Jeff Seibert pushed for proportional representation, which would give more RFA seats to Marysville as they have a larger population than Arlington and Fire District 12 combined.

"We had that issue come up with the RFA committee with District 12 [last year], which kind of got us to the point where we said we're just going to walk away from this," said Seibert.

Arlington officials said that their minds were on other issues first.

"Governance was a secondary issue, we were kind of worried about the other stuff first," said Arlington City Council member Jesica Stickles.

"I don't even think we got to the governance," said Tolbert. "It was way down on our radar screen."An RFA must go through a public vote to be formed, so a potential Arlington/Marysville RFA is still a ways away.

The three groups plan to meet again in July and bring back some specifics on each group's desires.

 

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