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South County Fire is a regional fire authority serving unincorporated southwest Snohomish County and the cities of Mill Creek and Lynnwood. It also provides fire and emergency medical service to the cities of Brier, Edmonds, and Mountlake Terrace under three separate service contracts. Brier and Mountlake Terrace are asking residents to consider annexing to South County Fire on the April Special Election ballot.
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The City is asking voters to consider annexing to South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue Regional Fire Authority (known as South County Fire) to maintain the quality and level of emergency services residents require.
The City contracts with South County Fire for fire and emergency medical service. Contracting means that property owners pay the city for fire/EMS. In turn, the city pays South County Fire. The contract, signed almost 20 years ago, is expiring in 2024 and the fire authority cannot renew it at the same rate.
Mountlake Terrace has looked at all options including starting its own fire department or contracting with another provider. South County Fire is the most cost-effective option for taxpayers to maintain the quality and level of fire and EMS residents currently receive. The cities of Lynnwood and Mill Creek already are part of the fire authority (Mill Creek voters approved annexation by 76% in 2022.) The city of Brier is asking voters to annex this April, as well.
Annexation would change the way property owners pay for fire/EMS. Under annexation, City property owners would join the fire authority and pay South County Fire directly for fire/EMS through their property taxes starting in 2024. It also means that Mountlake Terrace residents can vote on fire authority issues and run for the Board of Fire Commissioners.
The City has a long-term relationship with South County Fire. It already has an active response plan and operates out of the fire station owned by the City. South County Fire will continue providing the same quality and level of service for the lowest cost to taxpayers.
The fire station will continue to be owned by the City. It will be staffed 24-hours a day by South County Fire with the same number of firefighters, paramedics and apparatus to respond to emergencies.
The quality and level of emergency services our community receives will continue uninterrupted.
No. This is important to maintain the quality and level of emergency services for our community.
The proposition asking voters to consider annexing to South County Fire will be on the April 25, 2023 Special Election ballot.
By law, South County Fire must charge the city the same rate as fire authority property owners pay and cannot renew the city’s contract without a significant cost increase. To fund the contract, the city would need to consider increasing revenue through its property tax levy, EMS levy or other non-voted tax increases such as utility taxes, fees and special assessments. The City may also need to consider making cuts to services, such as police, parks and recreation, planning and transportation.
The City currently spends $3.77 million on fire/EMS, of which $1.744 million comes from the City property tax levy. The rest comes from the EMS levy and other revenue sources.
The City will reduce the $1.744 million it spends on fire/EMS from the property tax levy by $1.694 million if voters approve annexation. This leaves $50,000 the City would continue to collect from the property tax levy to help low-income households pay their utility bills. The City EMS Levy will also be eliminated.
If annexation were in effect today, the owner of a 2,000-square-foot home with an assessed value of $616,743, considered average in Mountlake Terrace, would pay South County Fire approximately $746 annually for 24-hour fire/EMS. With the City’s property tax reduction and elimination of the City EMS levy, the net increase would be $395 annually (about $33 a month).
South County Fire funds emergency services through a fire levy, an EMS levy and a fire benefit charge (included in the above referenced annual/monthly amounts), A fire benefit charge is based on a property’s structure size and type of use. In 2023, the fire benefit charge for a 2,000 square foot home was the equivalent of $0.16 per $1,000.
A fire benefit charge funds emergency services based on the size and use of a building. It takes into consideration that those who benefit more from fire protection services (such as high fire-risk structures, such as a large commercial building) should pay more for service than smaller ones (such as single-family homes). This charge would appear on your property tax statement and be paid along with your county property taxes. Seniors, disabled persons, exempt properties, and low-income households maintain any current exemptions they have through the county. A benefit charge is voter-approved every six years, and the rate is set annually in a public hearing. Property owners can appeal their assessment.
Traditional funding models for emergency services are based only on a property’s assessed value. That means two properties of the same type and size could be charged differently. However, the cost to defend them in a fire is likely the same. A fire benefit charge is based on a property’s size and risk of fire, which many people feel is a fairer way to charge for emergency services.
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