Fire department merger will reduce emergency service costs

Emergency personnel from Woodinville Fire & Rescue left, and Northshore Fire Department stands at the ready. The two entities will form one agency and operate under a new name if voters approve a merger initiative in April. Photo courtesy of WF&R.

By Bob Kirkpatrick

KENMORE, Wash. — Voters in the Northshore Fire District have an opportunity to save taxpayers money on emergency service costs if they give the thumbs up on a proposed merger between the Northshore Fire Department and Woodinville Fire & Rescue.

An approved initiative on a Special Election ballot on April 27, means Northshore property owners would save a projected 11 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value or 8.5% of the effective tax rate. Woodinville Fire & Rescue property owners would save a projected 7 cents per $1,000 or 5.6%. These amounts are based on 2021 property values, which is the most current data available.

Only those residing in the Northshore Fire District will be voting because the Northshore Fire Department would merge into Woodinville Fire & Rescue.

“Merging has a lot of positives for both agencies,” said Woodinville Fire & Rescue Chief Greg Ahearn. “It would allow sharing additional staff and combining administrative departments. Working as one agency also requires less reserve apparatus and provides economies of scale in purchasing goods and services.”

Smaller fire agencies throughout King and Snohomish counties are partnering together to provide residents with better service and cost efficiencies. The two fire districts involved in this proposed merger, Woodinville Fire & Rescue Public Information Officer Catherine Breault said, are approximately the same size and fund emergency services with a fire levy and fire benefit charge.

“The Northshore Fire Department provides fire and emergency medical services to approximately 37,000 people over 10 square miles, including the cities of Lake Forest Park and Kenmore. Its emergency call volumes average 3,600 a year,” Breault said. “Woodinville Fire & Rescue provides fire and emergency medical services to approximately 37,000 people over 30 square miles. Its emergency call volumes average 4,000 a year.”

Both agencies already share training programs for emergency personnel, administrative positions (fire chief, deputy chief, and a chief administrative officer), and joint departments, including finance, human resources, and IT. So, it makes perfect sense to merge the two.

“Working as one agency allows for better and more efficient deployment of these personnel and other resources, Breault said. “Merging also has the added benefits of providing better training opportunities for firefighters, stronger fire prevention programs in our local schools, and more community engagement.”

The merger will also result in renaming the combined fire districts.

“The new agency will have a name that reflects both the communities it serves,” Ahern said. “There will also be a single district headquarters, which will likely be located in Kenmore at Fire Station 51 in the current administrative facilities.”

The new agency would initially be governed by the current five fire commissioners from Northshore, and the five from Woodinville. These positions, Ahern said, would be reduced through attrition and the election process to five positions by 2026. All citizens of Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, and Woodinville are eligible to run for these positions.

He added residents will not see any difference in their emergency services.

“They will continue to enjoy the same high level of emergency service from a dedicated team of professional firefighters,” he said. “All Northshore and Woodinville Fire stations will remain staffed and operational.”

Once approved, the new effective tax rate would apply in 2022.

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