Mill Creek overwhelmingly votes for South County Fire annexation

MILL CREEK, Wash., April 26, 2022 – Mill Creek residents voted, 76.42%, in favor of Proposition 1, for annexation into South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue Regional Fire Authority (South County Fire) to provide fire and emergency medical services initial results show Tuesday evening, April 26.

“We welcome the residents of Mill Creek to the South County Fire family. We look forward to serving you with the level and quality of service you expect, deserve and require,” Greg Urban, Board Chair and Commissioner District 2, South County Fire, told the Lynnwood Times.

A total of 2,662 of the 2,972 received as of today have been counted. The next update is scheduled for 5 p.m. April 27, 2022. To see the full list of results, click here.

From left: Commissioner Greg Urban (Board Chair), Commissioner Jim Kenny, Commissioner Chris Teofilak (Board Vice Chair), Commissioner David Chan, former interim Fire Chief Doug Dahl, Commissioner Mark Laurence, former Commissioner Drew Burnett and former Commissioner Bob Meador. Photo courtesy of South County Fire from 2020.

Background on vote on annexation

On Tuesday, February 22, the Mill Creek City Council unanimously passed resolution 2022-631 at a Public Hearing Tuesday, which allows voter’s the opportunity to decide annexation of the city into South County Fire on tonight’s Special Election ballot.

South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue Regional Fire Authority (South County Fire or SCF) was found to be the lowest cost option when council explored EMS services to replace their expiring contract with Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue (SRFR). Costs to renew with SRFR are more than doubling the city says.

According to a February 15, 2022, document from the City, “SRFR expressed their desire to move from the current station cost model in previous contracts to a full-cost system cost model” during discussion in October 2020.

By December of 2020, SRFR officially notified the City that renewing its contract under the same costing model will no longer be an option and that “a more equitable agreement at or close to parity with their other District members” should be considered.

According to the analysis done by the city, “parity between SRFR’s property tax rate and the City’s contract cost would nearly double the [current] annual contract cost.”

Equity was the reason stated for the change of SRFR’s cost model in the document.

“…they decided that because their primary revenue source is based on property tax levies, those levies are the most equitable method to allocate costs to all citizens they serve – whether directly or by contract.”

Mill Creek Mayor Pro Tempore Stephanie Vignal shared with the Lynnwood Times that South County Fire is the best option for residents.

“I’ve been excited to be part of this project. The nuts and bolts are that our contract for fire/EMS is ending, and South County Fire is the low-cost provider moving forward. For my family, it’s also about protecting the quality of fire and EMS service we receive. South County Fire is as good as our current provider. They just cost less if we were to annex,” Vignal told the Lynnwood Times.

Property owners in Mill Creek previously paid the city $0.88 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for the fire/EMS contract, however SRFR can no longer offer services to the city at this rate and is requesting “substantially higher contract fees” to cover the costs – at least doubled ($1.76 per $1,000 of assessed property value) according to the City’s analysis.

Agencies with the same level of service, charge property owners up to $2 per $1,000 of assessed property value for a 24-hour fire and EMS response. It is important to remember that a property’s assessed value is lower than (and not the same as) its market value.

South County Fire (SCF) will charge property owners the equivalent rate of $1.51 per $1,000 of assessed value, making it the least costly available option when compared to SRFR’s equitable full-cost system cost model.

For example, the owner of a 2,000 square foot home with an assessed value of $602,000 (considered the average for Mill Creek) would pay South County Fire a total of $909.02. SCF’s amount of $1.51 per $1,000 of assessed value is comprised of a fire levy of $0.93 cents per $1,000, an EMS levy of $0.42 per $1,000, and a fire benefit charge equivalent to $0.16 per $1,000.

Under Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue’s (SRFR) new equitable full-cost system cost model of approximately $1.76 per $1,000 of assessed property value, the owner of a 2,000 square foot home with an assessed value of $602,000 would pay a total of $1,059.52.

Based on the information provided, the net impact to the average homeowner if annexation were in place would be an additional $379.26 a year ($31.61 a month) to SCF for fire emergency services, compared to an additional $529.76 a year ($44.15 a month) under SRFR’s model.

However, the approximate $1.76 per $1,000 of assessed property value stated by the City for SRFR’s parity rate could go as high as $2 per $1,000 of assessed property value when compared to other agencies. Therefore, the unknown risk to the owner of a 2,000 square foot home with an assessed value of $602,000 can be up to an additional $674.24.

Based on the information provided, the city affirms that the known increase with SCF of 72% in total cost to a Mill Creek homeowner is less than the estimated 100% to 127% increase for fire emergency services if annexation is not approved on the April 26th Special Election.

“We are grateful to Mill Creek voters who recognize the importance of protecting the level and quality of emergency services we receive and require,” Mike Todd, Public Works and Development Services for the City of Mill Creek, told the Lynnwood Times.

About South County Fire

South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue Regional Fire Authority (South County Fire) is a regional fire authority providing fire and life safety services to approximately 270,000 people in unincorporated southwest Snohomish County and the city of Lynnwood. It also serves the cities of Brier, Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds through three different contracts for service. South County Fire responded to 30,320 calls in 2021, 85% of which were for emergency medical service. More information on South County Fire can be found at www.southsnofire.org.

Kienan Briscoe

Michael Kienan Briscoe (referred to by his middle name 'Kienan') has a BA in Journalism from Arizona State University and has worked as a freelancer for a variety of publications and organizations throughout New York City and Seattle. Journalism, to him, is one of the most important public tools to ensure an educated and aware society of events surrounding them. When he is not reporting he enjoys writing fiction and poetry, playing guitar, reading classic literature, and getting outdoors. He lives in Seattle with his two dogs.

Kienan Briscoe has 256 posts and counting. See all posts by Kienan Briscoe

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