EFR agreement nearing completion

January 15, 2014

By Ari Cetron

New: Jan. 15, 10:17 a.m.

On Jan. 7, Sammamish began what could be the end game of its drawn-out negotiations with other members of Eastside Fire and Rescue.

While some city council members advocated making a few last-second changes, others were quick to discourage them.

After years of complaints and months of intense discussions and brinksmanship, Sammamish secured a new funding model for the organization. The old model resulted in Sammamish subsidizing fire coverage for other members of EFR, city leaders complained.

The new model will move toward what Sammamish feels is a more equitable system, and will save the city an estimated $2.8 million during the seven-year agreement.

EFR is a consortium of the cities of Sammamish, Issaquah and North Bend and Fire Districts 10 and 38. Each member makes a contribution to the budget. Under the new formula, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015, that contribution will generally be based 85 percent on property values and 15 percent on calls for service. The old model was 100 percent-based on property values.

Sammamish also pushed for a series of changes to the agreement which underpins the agency. The changes were generally made to clarify existing policies.

City Attorney Michael Kenyon said that he, and lawyers representing the other partners, all agreed that there were no substantive changes made to the agreement.

“And it’s hard to get five lawyers to agree on anything,” he said.

Some on the city council, however, were not too pleased with the changes.

“It’s illusory, the money we’re saving,” said Councilwoman Nancy Whitten.

Whitten and Councilwoman Kathleen Huckabay noted that the Pine Lake fire station is going to be considered a sort of back-up if other stations are overwhelmed. As a result, she argued, it might not be available when people near that station need it.

“We’ve traded readiness for a cost savings,” Whitten said.

Councilman Ramiro Valderrama disagreed. He noted that a consultant’s study said that Sammamish stations had some of the highest readiness levels the consultant had ever seen, and any lapses in service would be unlikely.

Huckabay further noted that many disagreements between partners come about because of costs regarding buildings, and the new agreement does nothing to change that. The Jan. 7 meeting was Huckabay’s first on the council, so she had not had an opportunity to bring up the issue earlier.

At this late stage, however, any changes are unlikely. The EFR board, Fire District 10 and the city of North Bend have already approved the new agreement, said Sammamish Deputy City Manager Lyman Howard.

District 38 has scheduled a vote, while the city of Issaquah has passed the agreement through a committee and also set a vote of the full council.

Valderrama said making substantive changes to the agreement at this point would be unfair to the other partners.

“They’ve been meeting and jumping through hoops to meet our requirements,” he said.

The council combed through the agreement and did find one minor change in wording they would like to suggest to the other members regarding the date for equipment transfers if someone were to leave the partnership.

The council will discuss the issue again Jan. 14 and is set to take a final vote Jan. 21.

 

Reach Editor Ari Cetron at 392-6434, ext. 233, or samrev@isspress.com.

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