The Sammamish City Council meeting tonight, June 18, includes a number of items, but perhaps none more basic to the community than the possibility that the city will leave the Eastside Fire & Rescue consortium.
At its last meeting, the council heard reports from a consultant, FCS, which was hired to review the city’s fire service. FCS advised the council to leave the partnership and seek one of three alternatives to provide fire and emergency services to the city.
The options, ranked from most to least desirable, would be to contract with Eastside Fire & Rescue, which could reduce the city’s costs but would also remove it from the governing board of the now five-member organization; seek a contract with the city of Redmond for fire services if a favorable contract can’t be negotiated; or, least attractive, create its own fire department. Tonight, the council will consider a resolution accepting the recommendations.
Eastside Fire Chief Lee Soptich said that it is EFR’s hope that the city will continue in the partnership, but that the members are willing to consider a contract if that’s what the city decides to pursue. “It’s just something we’ve never done before,” he said.
FCS worked in cooperation with a Technical Advisory Board (TAB) made up of three former City Council members – Kathleen Huckabay, Lee Fellinge and Ron Haworth. All three backed the contract approach and were present at the Council meeting when FCS’s Peter Moy shared the report.
“We hired FCS to do the study because we owe our taxpayers that kind of due diligence,” City Manager Ben Yazici said. “Fire service is our biggest expense, comprising 24 percent of our annual operating budget. As we do with every other major investment of taxpayer dollars, we put it through a major review.”
One of the major issues raised by the consultant and the TAB is the fact that because Sammamish’s revenue is largely derived from property taxes, it pays a higher share of its revenues, percentagewise, for the services of EFR than other communities such as Issaquah and North Bend.
Soptich, who wasn’t at the presentation by the presentation himself, though at least a dozen local firefighters filled the audience, said EFR is concerned that there may have been some inaccuracies in the reports leading to the recommendation and EFR administration would be working to bring additional information to the city. He said throughout out this process EFR has spent hundreds of hours providing requested information to the consultant, and gladly so.
Though members of the council, as well as the consultant and TAB all praised the firefighters themselves, the issue has so far appeared to have left a bad taste in the mouths of local firefighters.
Soptich said he knows the council and those involved in the fire services review have been careful to praise the work of firefighters, but he said to many of those with boots on the ground it feels like hollow praise.
The Professional Firefighters Union Local #2878 urged community members, via Facebook, to attend the meeting tonight:
“The Sammamish City Council is fast-tracking the issue of getting out of the Inter-Local agreement with Eastside Fire & Rescue and trying to contract instead. This could have a negative impact on your fire service. We urge all Sammamish residents to attend the Council meeting on June 18th at 6:30 PM and stand at the podium and ask them to slow the process down. Also, tell them there is too much information to consider to do this in two weeks.”
The city’s Interlocal Agreement with Eastside Fire expires in 2014.