Sammamish council gets an earful from public over EF&R

The Sammamish City Council got an earful from a standing-room only crowd at the City Council meeting October 29 over the prospect of the City Council deciding to leave the Eastside Fire and Rescue consortium and start its own department.

The Issaquah/Sammamish Reporter has this story.

The Sammamish Review has this story about a dust-up between Mayor Tom Odell and a principal of a school, who commented on the EF&R issue at the previous meeting.

The Review also has this story about the status of a funding model change proposed to Issaquah.

Save Our Fire Department, a new group, urged the Sammamish City Council Tuesday to stay with EF&R. Acknowledging the City Council’s legitimate concerns over the funding model, spokesman Jonathan Wiseman, president of the Eastside Professional Fire Fighters, noted that EF&R is attempting to persuade other EF&R members to reach an accommodation with Sammamish over the funding dispute. Wiseman told me before the meeting that firefighters seek a one year extension of the current agreement to allow more time for a resolution.

Odell told the crowd after public comment that Sammamish tried for 18 months to alter the funding model which results in Sammamish paying roughly 10 times per call than Issaquah for Station 83 responses.

Station 83 is the one on Issaquah-Pine Lake Road at the roundabout.

Sammamish City Manager Ben Yacizi is to give his recommendation to the City Council on November 5, likely to leave EF&R and form the City’s own fire department. The Council plans a decision on November 12.

Many speakers questioned the validity of the financial analysis and projections of the studies on which the recommendation and decision will be based.

The futile negotiations with other EF&R members is spearheaded by Issaquah, which refuses to budge on funding.

I spoke during the public comment period and suggested all parties move to professional mediation or binding arbitration, entering a stand-still agreement of 6, 9 or 12 months as mutually agreed.

Although Sammamish has publicly made this entirely about funding and finances, there are other issues that also should be part of any mediation or arbitration process.

As is its practice, none of the City Council responded to either my suggestion or those comments of others, except for closing comments by Odell at the conclusion of the public comment period.

Save Our Fire Dept website launched; how about advocating fair and balanced financial contributions, too?

Update, 4pm Oct. 28: The Eastside Firefighters issued a press release today accusing the City of Sammamish of violating the Open Meetings Act, holding meetings outside of the public process on the EFR issue. The press release is below the jump.

Original Post:

A new website called SaveOurFireDept.org has been launched to take on the City of Sammamish and its plan to leave the Eastside Fire and Rescue service.

A decision is supposed to be made Nov. 12. Another City Council meeting is tomorrow night.

This is an enormously controversial subject, with plenty written in the Sammamish Review and Issaquah/Sammmamish Reporter, as well as on this blog. Typically, the City of Sammamish has muffed its messaging on why, in detail, it’s considering leaving.

It comes down to a couple of simple issues:

  • Sammamish taxpayers are and have been paying a disproportionate share to fund EFR since incorporation. In recent years, this amounts to about $500,000 per year. Do the math: $2.5 million in over-payments in the last five years. This ain’t chicken feed.
  • Station 83, also known as the Klahanie Station, is at the heart of the matter. This station is on Issaquah-Pine Lake Road by the round-about. It was built by the developer of Klahanie (hence its unofficial name) when King County approved the project. Station 83 also serves Providence Point and several other areas in nearby Issaquah and areas adjacent Klahanie that are in the Issaquah Potential Annexation Area. A majority of the calls from the Station go to Issaquah and the Klahanie PAA, but Issaquah only contributes 6% of the funding toward Station 83’s operation.
  • Sammamish has been trying for several years to get the funding adjusted on a more equitable basis. EFR members, led by Issaquah, have consistently refused.
  • It’s after years of effort and constant rebuffs that Sammamish has reached this point of preparing to leave EFR.
  • There are other issues as well. At one point the EFR members pondered extending EFR to Snoqualmie Pass. Sammamish would wind up subsidizing part of this. There is also a plan to build buildings and a new fire training tower (despite use of the one off I-90 east of North Bend), at a great cost.

I appreciate the obviously organized effort, largely backed by firefighters, it appears, to lobby the Sammamish City Council to stop them from leaving EFR. The service is good and there are obvious synergies by being a member of EFR that would be absent should Sammamish withdraw.

But why aren’t these same people showing up at the Issaquah City Council, and those of other EFR members, to lobby them for a more equitable split of funding? This, fundamentally, is what’s at stake–and Sammamish has tried for years without success to adjust the funding. Issaquah is the principal roadblock.

The SaveOurFireDept crowd doesn’t have any contact or meeting information, or a call to arms to descend on other city councils, whose obstinance is a key issue that has driven Sammamish to this point.

If SaveOurFireDept wants to truly do so, it needs to lobby more than Sammamish. It needs to lobby the EFR members and show up at the EFR Board and lobby it, too.

Continue reading “Save Our Fire Dept website launched; how about advocating fair and balanced financial contributions, too?”

Sammamish dispute over fire service may be nearing conclusion

The years-long dispute between Sammamish, the Eastside Fire and Rescue service and its Board of Directors–dominated by Issaquah–may be nearing its conclusion.

Last week Issaquah’s City Council adopted a Resolution virtually identical to EFR partner Fire District 10 saying it will buy Station 83 if Sammamish leaves EFR, as it’s been threatening to do for several years because of a dispute over financial contributions to the District.

Station 83 is the one by Sunny Hills School on Issaquah-Pine Lake Road (at the roundabout). The station was built by the developer of Klahanie and became part of the City of Sammamish when we incorporated in 1999. Most of the fire and EMT calls from this station by far are within Klahanie, Providence Point and adjacent areas within Issaquah; few are within Sammamish, and this has been the rub with the Sammamish City Council, which says our taxpayers have been paying a disproportionate share of financial support to EFR.

But Issaquah’s representatives on the EFR Board, including City Councilman Fred Butler who is the favorite to win the mayoral race, have blocked every effort by Sammamish to adjust the financial formula to one based more closely on call volume than property assessment.

Until now.

The Issaquah City Council, in addition to expressing interest in buying Station 83 has agreed to adjust the formula somewhat, not to the full 50/50 assessment/call-based split Sammamish wanted but to an alternative 75/25 Sammamish suggested. Sammamish threatened to withdraw from EFR and close Station 83 if it did, saying it didn’t make sense for our taxpayers for a fire station making most of its calls outside our city. The prospect of closing the station raised hackles of Issaquah and Fire District 10 because of the downgrading of response time to Klahanie, Providence Point and those other areas of Issaquah served by Station 83.

This movement by Issaquah apparently was behind a decision by Sammamish to delay a recommendation expected from the City Manager to withdraw from EFR.

The whole EFR controversy is the underlying cause of poor relations between the Issaquah and Sammamish City Councils, which has evolved into disputes over the Klahanie annexation and the impact of withdrawing from EFR and closing Station 83; and the dispute between Issaquah and the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District over Issaquah’s plan to inject stormwater near a well fed by an aquifer than serves about 60% of the city of Sammamish.

The Issaquah/Sammamish Reporter has an editorial that pretty well sums up the disputes and impacts.

Having lived here in Sammamish since before it was incorporated, I’ve watched Issaquah pretty well thumb its nose at us the entire time. Issaquah is a “Gimme City,” that has been unwilling to cooperate with other jurisdictions unless they concede everything Issaquah wants for nothing in return. The long-running fight over EFR is the worst example of the Gimme spirit exhibited by Issaquah.

The problem with the Resolutions adopted by the Issaquah City Council last week is that the city has a history of reneging on agreements, as I’ve pointed out. This is one of those Missouri moments: Show Me you’ll live up to what you say you’ll do, Issaquah.

Addendum:

Within minutes of posting the above, I received the following distribution from Harry Shedd, chairman of Citizens for Sammamish, a watchdog group.

From those supporting present system (FYI)…

On Monday evening, the Sammamish City Council discussed the final report that outlined the future of fire service for local residents. The city is leaning towards leaving Eastside Fire and Rescue and starting its own “bare bones” fire department, which will cost taxpayers more and lower the quality of emergency services that Sammamish families and businesses currently receive.
The final report was incomplete and raised more questions than it answered. Community testimony was substantial:

·         The fire chief for Mercer Island (who is also a Sammamish resident) expressed doubt about the cost analysis in the report. He runs a two station fire department for close to what Sammamish claims it will cost for three.

·         A retired fire chief said regional partnerships were more cost-effective and questioned why Sammamish was the only city in the state considering a standalone department.

·         A local elementary school principal asked the council why the study called for a community based fire service when this was something we already have, as evidenced by the safety and fire prevention programs in our public schools.

·         A firefighter pointed out that local residents rate their fire service as one of the top three city services according to the city government’s own survey from 2012. (City council was sixth!)

·         Even the city’s own consultants were quoted several times as saying they could not make a final recommendation on whether the city should start its own fire department.

We had a small victory by pressuring the city council to allow for additional public input on October 29, November 5, and November 12, when the final vote to leave Eastside Fire and Rescue will happen. All meetings begin at 6:30 pm and are held at City Hall at Sammamish Commons, 801 228th Ave SE. Please plan to attend and tell the Sammamish City Council to maintain the quality and cost-effective fire service we receive through Eastside Fire and Rescue