Sammamish sets deadline to work out agreement with Eastside Fire & Rescue
By KEVIN ENDEJAN
Issaquah Reporter Assistant editor
June 20, 2012 · Updated 2:04 PM
Facing a room packed full of anxious firefighters, the Sammamish City Council unanimously voted Monday to extend talks with Eastside Fire & Rescue and not immediately follow a recommendation to leave the partnership after the current agreement runs out in 2014.
In an effort to find common ground in governance and funding models, the council authorized City Manager Ben Yazici to pursue fire service negotiations with EFR over the next three months.
"I think during that time period we need to sit down and have a serious give and take and discuss equity issues with our partners and hopefully we can come to some resolution," said Councilman Don Gerend.
If an agreement cannot be reached before Sept. 17, the city will pursue alternatives recommended by the FCS Consulting Group and a Technical Advisory Board made up of former City Council members – Kathleen Huckabay, Lee Fellinge and Ron Haworth.
Of the recommended alternatives, the preferred method was to drop from the Eastside Fire & Rescue partnership and contract with the organization. The second option was contract fire services with Redmond and the third and final option was for the city to create its own fire department.
The entire council reiterated its support for the firefighters themselves Monday, but many also voiced concerns over their responsibility to Sammamish tax payers. According to the FCS study, Sammamish's annual contribution to EF&R has grown from $4.9 million in 2007 to $5.9 million in 2012.
Mayor Tom Odell noted that switching to a call-based system could potentially save Sammamish $1.25 million.
"Guys, it's not hollow words," he said, looking to the back of the room at a group of 40 firefighters decked out in red T-shirts. "We do appreciate you. Our disagreement is very frankly with the way the system is set up."
Councilwoman Nancy Whitten said she was happy that Sammamish was making one last effort to preserve its relationship with EFR. She also said there has been a lot of tension in recent years, stemmed largely from Sammamish not wanting to subsidize the rest of the district, which includes North Bend, Issaquah, District 10 and District 38.
"Name calling and other negative comments really are not productive," she said. "We need to be constructive and work together."
Craig Hooper, head of the Eastside Professional Firefighters union, said after the meeting, he was pleased the council decided to amend its original resolution and extend talks. He also remained optimistic about the future relationship.
"I hope the partners can work out an agreement moving forward that keeps the current level of service and the current providers together for the long term," he said. "I think that's in the best interest of all the citizens and I think that's in the best interest of all the partners."Contact Issaquah Reporter Assistant editor Kevin Endejan at email@example.com or 425-391-0363, ext. 5054.