The front page story in the Sammamish Report January 28 that the Eastside Fire & Rescue is prepared to create a new taxing authority to expand EF&R is the final straw in long-running disagreements between Sammamish and EF&R over the direction and fiscal responsibilities of the district.
The disagreements have been well covered by the Sammamish Reporter, the Sammamish Review and the City’s own newsletter and won’t be recounted here. Suffice it to say that Sammamish believes EF&R hasn’t been as cost-conscious as it should be, particularly during the recent national economic crisis, and that ambitions to annex other fire districts (notably the area at Snoqualmie Pass) means more cost to Sammamish taxpayers with no additional benefit.
The City’s own studies about costs have been previously disputed by members of the EF&R board, who at one point labeled the Sammamish City Council a bunch of “rascals.” This characterization may or may not be true, but certainly not in this case. Our “rascals” are spot-on.
EF&R may be able to make a case for some of its annexation desires. EF&R already has to respond to Snoqualmie Pass through Mutual Aid pacts, but is there really any benefit to the district to actually annex the area and be responsible for coverage all the time as opposed to just now-and-then? But there certainly isn’t any benefit to Sammamish and there is only the extra cost Sammamish will have to pay to in effect subsidize this service.
When Sammamish annexed the Aldarra and adjacent area last year, the Fall City Fire Department (now another EF&R annexation target) would lose revenue from the annexation. Sammamish proposed EF&R make one-time payments to ease the financial loss; it refused.
EF&R seems plenty willing to put additional burdens on our taxpayers.
I’m reminded of when what is now Sammamish was unincorporated and ruled by the King County Council. We paid in lots of tax dollars and saw them spent elsewhere. This is clearly what is emerging more and more with EF&R.
It’s time for Sammamish to go it alone. The question is whether there is the political will.
This became a bit of an election issue in 2009’s City Council race. There is another election in 2011. Three Council members are up for election: Mark Cross, Nancy Whitten and Michele Petitti. All three have been on the Council since 2003. Whitten and Petitti are widely believed ready to step down and there hasn’t been any buzz about Cross’ intentions.
Whitten and Petitti, who have lost larges bases of their support in recent years, are not fans of the EF&R and neither is Cross. If two or all three choose not to run, this gives them the political freedom to push for Sammamish to withdraw from EF&R. All it takes is one more vote on the Council and I know that the sentiment is there. I’m not sure the will is.
The next few months will be very interesting to follow on this issue.