Updates/Corrections: LFP residents to vote on proposed Fire District Merger in April 27 ballot

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Northshore fire district has two stations. This one is in Kenmore.
Photo by Jerry Pickard

By Tracy Furutani and Diane Hettrick

“The Northshore Fire Department is asking voters to approve a merger with Woodinville Fire and Rescue during the April 27, 2021 Special Election,” said Woodinville Fire and Rescue Chief Greg Ahearn in a letter to Shoreline Area News. 

“The goal of this merger is to save money for taxpayers and improve emergency services. The Boards of Fire Commissioners representing both districts support the merger because it is in the best interest of the communities we serve.”

The ballot, which should be arriving in the mail this week from King County Elections to voters in Lake Forest Park and Kenmore, will contain a single item labeled Proposition No. 1: Should the proposal to merge the Northshore Fire Department (also known as Fire Protection District No. 16) into Woodinville Fire and Rescue be approved?

The Northshore Fire Department serves the cities of Lake Forest Park and Kenmore. The reason why the Northshore FD would be merged into Woodinville F/R even though the two districts are not contiguous is a bureaucratic issue: Woodinville F/R has one more fire station and about a dozen more personnel than the Northshore FD. Woodinville residents will not be voting on this proposal. 

The fact that the two districts are not adjacent will have no effect on fire department call service, because interagency agreements allow the nearest fire department to respond to calls, said Roger Collins, the chair of Woodinville F/R Board of Commissioners, “boundaries have nothing to do with service.”

There is organized opposition to the merger. “No on Prop. 1” yards signs have appeared throughout both Lake Forest Park and Kenmore, sponsored by the group Citizens For A Safer Northshore, which lists an affiliation with the Northshore FD’s firefighters’ union, IAFF Local 2459, according the Public Disclosures Commission.

“We’ve been very supportive of merger, but once they stopped working with our labor group that raised some red flags,” said Lieutenant Jeremiah Ingersoll of the Northshore Firefighters, and IAFF Local 2459 President. “We still tried to work with them on [the merger], but we saw a lot of misleading information like [the proposed] cost savings.”

There will be no Voters’ Pamphlet sent out. The fire districts would have had to pay for it, and “it was an expense that didn’t seem like it needed to be spent,” said Collins.

The Boards of each district were not unanimous in their approval of putting the merger on the April ballot.

The Northshore Board split 3-2 in favor of the proposal. The Woodinville board voted 4-0 in favor, with one abstention. 

Some of the Northshore Board members in the minority have been giving public comment in opposition. “I have voted against this merger from the beginning,” said Rick Verlinda, a Board member of the Northshore FD, at the March 25 Lake Forest Park City Council meeting, though he made clear he was not speaking as a Board member.

The Lake Forest Park station is the second station in the Northshore Fire District
Photo by Jerry Pickard

The administration and the Boards of Fire Commissioners in each district argue that the residential and property owners in the Northshore FD will save money. According to Collins, the combined rate for fire services (which includes both the Fire Benefit Charge and the portion of the King County property tax that is earmarked for fire protection) will be reduced from $1.30 per $1000 of assessed property value to $1.19.

The firefighters’ unions and the No on Prop. 1 campaign argue that that rate is not sustainable, and that the rate would have to increase over time. Ingersoll said “they [the Boards of the fire districts] are putting out these tax rates… no one can justify them.” He also mentioned that the new merged district would be assuming debt from a refinanced 2009 Northshore bond, and it was not clear if Woodinville residents would be helping to pay off that bond through their property tax levy.

“The city is with the union, and the union is against the merger,” said Kenmore Mayor David Baker, commenting on the Kenmore City Council unanimously opposing Prop. 1 at a meeting last Monday. The Bothell-Kenmore Reporter quoted a Kenmore City Council member’s reason for opposing the measure as the fire district not being transparent about their financial and service information.

The next chance for public comment is this Thursday at 7pm when the Lake Forest Park City Council includes a public hearing on the merger as part of its regular business meeting.

If the proposal passes “we would merge into Woodinville,” said Ingersoll. “Our labor group would assume [Woodinville’s] contract, policies and procedures and Northshore fire would cease to exist.”

If the proposal does not pass “the two districts will remain separate entities and the two Boards of Commissioners will have to decide the next step,” said Collins. “A ‘no’ vote does not mean that a merger can not be put forth again, but it would be some time before that could happen.”

Correction: Correction to the commission vote at Woodinville whose board voted 4-0 in favor with one abstention.

Update: Since the article was published the Lake Forest Park City Council voted unanimously to oppose the merger.



5 comments:

Carolyn Armanini,  April 7, 2021 at 8:38 AM  

A couple of hundred local frontline firefighters, the Kenmore City Council, and 2 of the 5 Northshore Fire Commissioners oppose this ill-conceived merger of Northshore into the Woodinville Fire Department. I'm not surprised that the 3 commissioners in favor didn't want to provide for a voters' pamphlet that might expose the truth about the impacts.
Please vote NO.

Unknown April 11, 2021 at 7:37 PM  

Knowing nothing about this vote until I received my ballot amd begam researching, everythimg I'm reading online (no voter pamphlet) makes this appear like a bait-and-switch. Save 11 cents now, pay an extra 25 later...why? So pretentious eastsiders can exert authority over our firefighters? This reeks of a power grab. Expect LFP and Kenmore services to diminish in favor of increased services in Woodinvile. No way! Once merged, it can never be undone. Independence for the North End!

Anonymous,  April 12, 2021 at 6:45 PM  

The fact that the Board doesn't seem to be talking to the union tells me all I need to know. Cutting a union contract seems to be a reason for this. Add in the fact that nobody seems to be able to come up with an accurate financial figure makes this an easy no for me.

Anonymous,  April 13, 2021 at 6:39 PM  

If no passes will Northshore fire provide patient transport at no additional cost instead of the for profit company they currently use?

Anonymous,  April 22, 2021 at 10:32 AM  

After this article was published the Lake Forest Park City Council voted unanimously to OPPOSE this merger.

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