The Arlington Fire Department will be annexed into North County Fire and EMS this summer after local voters overwhelmingly approved the measure that was on the Feb. 9 special election ballot.
North County Fire and EMS currently covers areas north and west of Arlington and the city of Stanwood.
As of the county’s Feb. 9 ballot count, 89.38 percent of voters were in favor of the annexation.
Arlington Fire Department Fire Chief Dave Kraski said he was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
“Going in I was confident that we could get 60 to 65 percent of the vote,” he said. “To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed. I don’t recall any measure that we’ve passed as a fire department that has hit that high of a mark."
North County Fire and EMS Fire Chief John Cermak said he was glad the Arlington community showed such strong support for the measure.
“I thought it was an outstanding indicator of the support the Arlington Fire Department has,” he said. “I’m excited and proud to have the opportunity to serve the city of Arlington."
The Arlington Fire Department is currently run by the city of Arlington but will join in with the North County Fire and EMS Regional Fire Authority.
A Regional Fire Authority (RFA) is a government entity responsible for fire services that has the ability to levy some taxes, most often in the form of property taxes.
“This is a more sustainable funding platform for us moving forward,” said Kraski.
City fire departments are paid for out of a city’s general fund which is affected by the fluctuations of sales tax collections.
“This will help other departments in the city as well. Police, parks, utilities all have to compete for a limited amount of funds,” said Kraski.
Although the Arlington City Council reported they would reduce the city's property tax collections to offset the cost of the incoming tax collections from the RFA.
“City residents will no longer see the ambulance utility fee starting in August,” said Kraski.
According to calculations from city officials, 54 percent of residents would see their property tax remain the same or decrease.
The properties of the highest value are supposed to see the largest increases in taxes because of the change.
The first year with the new property tax collections will be 2022.
The annexation will become official on Aug. 1.
“Before that we will remain a city fire department and we will have a lot to work through in terms of the transition,” said Kraski.
Payroll, scheduling and staff transitions will be worked out in the coming months, he said.
“We’ve got a large list of items to work on, but we don’t see any major operational changes for the rest of this year,” said Cermak. “As we move forward, we will look at those next steps for efficiency."
As the Arlington Fire Department and North County Fire and EMS become a larger entity, they hope to gain efficiencies because of their size.
One of the first gains may be a 24-hour command and control staff, which Cermak hopes to have in place by the summer of 2022.
Both organizations have command staff for the day, but not some of the evening hours, in which they depend on response from workers at home for those operations.
Cermak said the two agencies already work together in sharing positions such as a fire marshal and coordinating to help set up the mass COVID-19 vaccination site at the Arlington airport.
“We already had a partnership where we shared services,” he said.
Now, with the Arlington Fire Department joining the RFA, Cermak said the agency has more opportunity to make long-term plans in terms of finances, capital purchases and other planning.
Kraski said as part of the agreement with North County Fire and EMS, service levels are not meant to decrease in Arlington.
“Over the last six months I’ve said my hope is that the community notices no changes,” he said. “We still plan to be an active part of the community here."
“They will remain the Arlington Fire Department, just under the management of North County Fire and EMS,” said Cermak.