Most EFR partners don’t want to let Sammamish save some money

March 31, 2013

By Michele Mihalovich

New: March 31, 11:16 a.m.

Eastside Fire & Rescue partners are generally unwilling to change the way they fund the agency in order to save Sammamish a few bucks.

At a March 18 funding model committee meeting, members told Sammamish they wanted to find some way to preserve the partnership, but they were unwilling to change the current funding arrangement.

Right now EFR partners, made up of Issaquah, North Bend, Sammamish, and fire districts 10 and 38, pay into the partnership based solely on property values.

Sammamish representatives have threatened to withdraw from the partnership unless the funding model was changed to reflect the amount of calls each partner produces. The agency determines each partner’s payment based on the value of property covered by specific stations, something Sammamish representatives say unfairly impacts them due to the expensive homes in the city.

Since October, EFR partners, city officials and fire department administrators have been meeting to see if different funding models could be worked out.

North Bend Councilman Alan Gothelf said after the meeting that North Bend would be open to a 75/25 split, which is based on 75 percent property value and 25 percent on actual calls for service, “but the rest of EFR partners seem to be in a holding pattern.”

“At this point, unless there’s a willingness of the partners to look at alternative funding models, I think we’ve exhausted our options,” he said.

Sammamish’s 2013 bill will come in at $5.6 million, which is less that District 10’s share of $6.6 million, and slightly more than Issaquah’s share of $5 million. District 38 will pay $1.3 million this year, compared to North Bend, which will pay $777,222.

If the partners agreed to a 75/25 split that was phased in over a three year period, North Bend’s share would jump an additional $75,689 (9.7 percent) and Issaquah would see a $245,851 (4.8 percent) increase.

District 10’s bill would go down by $73,652 (1.1 percent), District 38 would decrease by $90,930 (6.85 percent) and Sammamish would realize $156,957 (2.8 percent) in savings.

Issaquah Councilwoman Eileen Barber said at the meeting that she wants to see the partnership stay together, but her council did a straw poll and wants to stay with the current funding model.

She also said she was disappointed that after all the time spent on looking at other funding model options, Sammamish is only looking at saving about $157,000.

District 10 Commissioner Michael Fisette said he looked forward to ideas from all of the partners so that all partners could maintain their current level of service and remain in partnership.

He also suggested that maybe some financial cuts could be looked at to help lesson the burden, and offered that a committee be formed to look at some efficiencies.

Ron Pedee, District 38 commissioner, said that when the partnership was first being formed, there were discussions about how to go about funding it, and the current model was determined to be the “most fair.”

He said one thing he does not want to see is someone pulling out of the partnership because they can’t afford it.

Barber and others did agree that some good had come out of the monthly meetings because it’s clear that periodic reviews of the funding model should be done – especially after big annexations – but not now.

Sammamish City Councilman Tom Vance said at the meeting that he was disappointed and didn’t think the committee needed to meet again.

He said after the meeting that he appreciated the support from North Bend, “but I’m disappointed that we couldn’t make a change for the entire partnership that would have been a more equitable way to assess funding.”

Vance said Sammamish’s City Manager, Ben Yazici, would probably be preparing a report for the full Sammamish City Council in April so they can look at their options.

Vance said it’s hard to say what direction Sammamish will go. He said, “All I can say right now is to stay tuned.”

If Sammamish does decide to pull out of the EFR partnership, it must give notice by the end of this year, and the new EFR contract could be “Sammamishless” beginning Jan. 1, 2015, said Fire Chief Lee Soptich.

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