EFR board agrees to hold strategic planning workshops

August 20, 2013

By Sherry Grindeland

New: Aug. 20, 12:53 p.m.

Come late September, the Eastside Fire & Rescue board will be right back where it was in June — having to decide on a funding model that meets the needs of all members.

The difference will be that in eight weeks the group will have agreed on two things: what value they need to offer to retain members and how they maintain a stable organization. The process won’t be easy, said facilitator Neville Wallace, with Online Business Systems of Portland.

“Whether you like it or not, you will be collaborating,” Wallace said. “We will be accessing what works well, what doesn’t and what can be fixed easily.”

After Wallace’s presentation at the Aug. 8 meeting, the EFR board voted unanimously to continue the strategic process under the consultant’s guidance even though he warned them it wouldn’t solve everything. Wallace told the group they had to commit to a series of intensive workshops, and participants had to come with an open and positive attitude.

“Be wary,” he said. “Members may still walk away from EFR. But stay or go, after this process EFR will be stronger because of the commitment.”

EFR, a consortium of Sammamish, Issaquah, North Bend, and Fire Districts 10 and 38 that pools resources to provide fire prevention services, is led by fire commissioners, fire chiefs, mayors and city administrators. They have a reputation for vociferous disagreements over funding issues.

In June, after several rancorous meetings, the board agreed to bring in an outside facilitator.

Sammamish officials are exploring other options for fire service. They describe the current funding model as unfair because it bases payments on the value of property rather than the number of service calls. That means Sammamish contributes a larger portion because it has the highest property values in the group — effectively subsidizing fire service for some of the other partners.

So, Sammamish officials had asked EFR to switch to a funding model based 75 percent on property value and 25 percent on service call volume. Under than model, Sammamish and Fire District 10 would pay less, and the other partners would pay more. Other EFR partners rejected the proposal in March.

In other business at the Aug. 8 meeting, Fire Chief Lee Soptich said he’s withdrawn the EFR letter to terminate its NORCOM contract. NORCOM, the emergency dispatch system that provides service to 14 fire districts including EFR and several police departments, faced similar friction from member agencies because of problems with a new computer-aided-dispatch system. An independent facilitator helped NORCOM members work through the partners’ strategic goals and come to an agreement.

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