Issaquah delays talks on change to EFR funding
October 30, 2013
By Peter Clark
Issaquah won’t be having discussions about changes to Eastside Fire & Rescue’s funding model for at least a few weeks. The delay could complicate an upcoming decision by the Sammamish City Council about whether or not to withdraw from the agency.
The agency consists of the cities of Sammamish, North Bend and Issaquah, along with Fire Districts 10 and 38.
Elected representatives from each of those partners govern EFR. The board develops an annual budget and each of the partner jurisdictions is billed. The bill is based solely on property values. Sammamish, with its high-value homes, ends up effectively subsidizing other partners, particularly Issaquah and North Bend.
For more than a year, Sammamish has been asking the other partners to change the funding model, most recently to one based 75 percent on property value and 25 on call volume. The change would result in Sammamish paying less, with Issaquah and North Bend paying more. Depending on which version of the change is used, the fire districts could either pay more or less.
Thus far, the other partners, particularly Issaquah, have blocked efforts to change the funding model.
In response, Sammamish has been studying the costs of starting its own fire department. Sammamish must decide by the end of the year if it will withdraw from EFR.
In a last-ditch effort to stop Sammamish from leaving, the other EFR partners voted Oct. 10 to bring back to their boards the idea that they might discuss changing the funding formula.
The Issaquah City Council, however, put off any discussion until Nov. 12 – the same day the Sammamish City Council is set to make its decision about whether or not to withdraw.
At it’s Oct. 21 meeting, the Issaquah Council voted 5-1 to delay discussion until Nov. 12, and delay any vote until Nov. 18.
“Before we jump in here and say yes it’s a 75/25, I really think we need to step back and look at this,” Issaquah City Councilwoman and EFR board representative Eileen Barber said.
Other members of the council concurred, saying the city should take its time to study the possible impacts of a funding model change.
Council-woman Stacy Goodman said she hoped a few more weeks would not affect Sammamish’s decision.
“I want to fully understand the latest discussions that are going on, and I don’t as of right now,” she said. “Just as our friends in Sammamish have, in my view, taken their time to be diligent in looking at what their options are and what they would like to do in the best interest of their citizens, we’re just doing the same.”
Councilman Joe Forkner, the Issaquah’s other representative to the EFR board, warned the council’s delay might impact Samm-amish’s decision.
“This whole 75/25 was a last ditch effort to see if there was any chance of keeping them with the organization,” Forkner said. “The rest of the partners have put it to their respective bodies to see if it’s something they’re interested in. I believe that if they don’t have an answer from us prior to Nov. 5, they will see that as a further stall and decide that they’re going to leave.”
Forkner was the sole vote against moving the discussion to Nov. 12.
“I really believe that Sammamish is drawing a line in the sand and that our action tonight will be counter to what they want to see,” he said.
If Sammamish leaves, the other partners will likely see their bills go up.
“It’s going to cost everybody more,” EFR Deputy Chief of Planning Wesley Collins said. “Although we would have overhead coming down if Sammamish leaves, cost and service are still spread across four partners instead of five.”
The other partners seem to be moving more quickly to indicate they are willing to, at least, talk about a change.
“All the partners but Issaquah have passed a resolution or something to say ‘yes’ to something,” said EFR Deputy Chief Greg Tryon in an interview.