Fire chief faces park district over interlocal agreement

At the most recent park board meeting on June 12, Vashon Fire Chief Charlie Krimmert stood from his seat and delivered a rebuke of the park commissioners’ handling of a proposed interlocal agreement between the two districts.

“What brought me here tonight is that I read the last three posted minutes,” Krimmert told the commissioners. “To be perfectly frank, I was set aback. I think you were a little bit hard on the district,” he said, adding that he appreciated the situation they now faced with the loss of Scott Harvey, who had resigned abruptly at the same meeting.

Krimmert’s comments stem from discussions that park commissioners have held about the proposed agreement, and the state law prompting it. The law states that any municipal organization within the confines of, or adjacent to, a fire district must contract with the fire district for fire protection services. Prior to Krimmert’s hiring as chief, the fire district did not have several key interlocal agreements in place, and Krimmert has been working to secure those, including at the park district.

As part of that effort, Krimmert had proposed an annual cost of $11,500 for its services to the park district, which owns 525 acres of land. He arrived at that figure by establishing a cost of $1 per $1,000 of market value, below the fire district’s levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. Krimmert said he also took into account the average number of calls per year where fire services are dispatched to park district locations, which he estimated at eight.

“This is a law that is not to your advantage, but it is a law. And we are both — your district and our district — not in compliance with law at this point, plain and simple,” Krimmert told the commissioners, stating that members of the board had wrongly characterized the proposal as “nickel and diming” the park district when history shows they had never before contracted or paid for services.

“The contract and the fee we presented to you, if you read the emails, I’m just saying, ‘Here’s where I’m starting.’ I never suggested I was set in stone, never suggested we couldn’t look at other ideas,” said Krimmert angrily.

The fire district first inquired about the status of an interlocal agreement with the park district in August of last year, as the fire district could not find one, Krimmert said. Later, Ott- Rocheford consulted with the district’s lawyer to ensure that park district leaders understood the statute, which mandates they enter a contract to either pay for services or participate in a like-value exchange. Krimmert had also suggested a possible exchange between the two districts with the park district providing property for the fire district to build a new station, as a means of complying with the law. However, Ott-Rocheford said such an arrangement for the park district would likely not be legal, as the park district is bound by stipulations in grants, deeds, and other codes not to re-purpose its properties.

Krimmert asserted that other agreements with the school district or Washington State Ferries, both of which pay the fire district less for services than he proposed to the park district, are not comparable to the situation faced by the park district because of state law. But he was insistent that he was flexible.

“I am not opposed to negotiating a fair and reputable price, but I did not anticipate we would do it in a public forum without even engaging us,” said Krimmert.

Commissioner Karen Gardner, who has been outspoken against the fire district’s proposed $11,500 cost of services in the past, remained adamant at the meeting that the park district would resist complying.

“We’re not going to pay you $11,000 a year. We’re just simply not going to do that,” she said.

“Just pay when we come,” Krimmert rebutted. “We can work out an apparatus, equipment and personnel fees schedule; we’ll establish the cost. You don’t call us, you don’t pay anything. You call us, there’s the schedule,” he said. “Happy to do that. I think I can sell that to my board.”

Commissioner Bob McMahon acknowledged that the park district would likely have to come to an agreement or else willfully break the law, though he argued that paying for fire services amounted to little more than a reshuffling of taxpayer money. But Krimmert asserted that, despite the recent fire district levy, it was his task “to find ways to substantiate my budget on an annual basis” and remains fiscally accountable to the statute.

Ott-Rocheford later said that she felt the fire district was trying to be accommodating and is “interested in working with us on an arrangement that makes sense for both parties.”

“I feel completely confident he is being very honest and forthcoming about his intent,” she said about Krimmert.

After conversations with the park district’s attorney, Ott- Rocheford said that there is no clear statement in the RCW that enforces a monetary exchange and added that she is open to the idea of a cost-per-call fee structure.

Krimmert said that he looked at several examples of interlocal agreements in other communities for an idea of what options both districts may have that resembled a fixed cost or cost-per-call fee structure.

“I know at least one other agreement we saw that did a combination of the two. But traditionally, I assume, it’d be to the park’s advantage to pick an annual fixed fee,” he said after the meeting, citing the additional ease for budgeting.

At the meeting, Ott-Rocheford said that based on her own analysis, she found that by not including more than 200 acres of undeveloped park district property in Krimmert’s original assessment, the cost of services to the remaining park property using his formula would be $5,877.

“Yes, we’re negotiating,” said Krimmert, who has continued meeting with Ott-Rocheford. “I have a number on the table, she has a number on the table, and we have to take the next steps.”

The park district met Tuesday, after press time, and will meet again at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 10.

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