Commissioners from the fire and park districts met last week in an attempt to reach an agreement regarding how much the park district should pay the fire district for its fire and emergency medical services. The boards did not reach an agreement and were expected to discuss the issue at their respective board meetings this week, after press time.
At issue is a state statute that says that municipal institutions, such as Vashon’s park, cemetery and airport districts, “shall contract” with the local fire district for protection services. Krimmert has been working to secure those agreements.
Following last week’s meeting, Vashon Park District Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford said her board would discuss paying the fire district between $1,800 — the amount the state sets for the school district to pay for fire and emergency medical services each year — and approximately $5,900, a figure the park district had previously discussed.
Fire board Chair Brigitte Schran Brown said she expects her board will also discuss the matter and hopes to come up with a more firm direction for meeting the state statute.
“We are not trying to break the park district, but we have to be able to take care of the island,” she said.
The statute has been law since the 1974, but at Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) — and reportedly many other nearby districts — the law was little used until recently.
Krimmert said he first approached the park district about the state statute in August of 2017. Since then, the process has been at times acrimonious, although the joint meeting was mostly cordial.
Park leaders cited a range of concerns last week, including that they believe the amounts the fire district has suggested the park district pay are arbitrary figures. Talks started at $11,500 annually, but have gone down from there.
Vashon Park District’s Doug Ostrom addressed this point.
“We are not arguing that the law should not be applied, but our reading of the law is that it is an arbitrary number,” he said, noting that park commissioner Hans Van Dusen suggested they settle on an even number. “That will be clear it is an arbitrary number, not based on some kind of assessment. But it is a number pulled out of a hat.”
Krimmert disagreed with that characterization, saying that he began this process with the market assessment Ott-Rocheford provided for the park district’s 524 acres of property.
Applying the fire district’s levy rate at the time of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value resulted in too high a number, he said, so he used a rate of $1. That totaled $11,500. The park district later discussed a figure close to $5,900 — based on properties in active use. The fire district then tried to split the difference, suggesting $8,000.
He also noted the districts had considered a fee-for-service arrangement, but the park district did not wish to pursue that avenue.
Additional concerns park district commissioners raised were about the size of the districts respective budgets, indicating whatever amount the park district pays will be more significant to it than to the fire district. They also mentioned the park district’s limited ability to increase its revenue because of state tax law. Additionally, the possibility of a hospital district — imposing a new tax to support health care — could also hurt the park district financially because of state taxing limitations for so-called “junior” taxing districts.
Chair Bob McMahon addressed this concern.
“If we end up with a hospital district on the island, our money’s going to be gone. We’re at the bottom of the totem pole. No more money, no more park district. Or at least it’s going to be so small that it’s not going to even come close to resembling what we have on the island right now,” he said.
He also stated that the fire district does not need the money it is asking for.
“You know you don’t need it,” he said. “You have got a huge budget. You have got more money than you should have gone for in the levy. As a result of that and the hospital district, you are pushing us right out the bottom.”
Schran Brown countered that idea, saying the fire district is trying to recover after 27 years of not raising taxes and that the passage of the levy in 2017 did not give it excess funds.
“We are not looking for luxuries or new buildings or any kind of new property that makes the fire district better,” she said. “We are just looking to be able to respond to calls with safe equipment with enough personnel.”
At one point during the negotiation process, the park district was considering paying nearly $5,900 annually — a sum derived just from park properties the public actively uses. At the time, there was a question regarding whether or not the fire district would respond to emergencies at lesser-used properties.
Fire commissioner Andy Johnson set that question to rest.
“If anyone breaks their leg, wherever they are on the island, we are going to go get them,” he said. “If a fire starts on the island, we are going to put it out. We are going to do our best. That is absolutely true.”
During the course of the meeting, Krimmert noted that the fire district, through its attorney, is working with King County to develop agreements for county property on the island.
Krimmert also said that he would like to come to a new agreement with Washington State Ferries, but has not been successful. He has proposed providing fire and emergency medical service for WSF in return for free passage on its vessels. Last year, he said, WSF paid the fire district $6,350 for its services, while VIFR paid $35,500 in ferry fares.
Krimmert is in the process of establishing agreements on the island, including with Water District 19, which, per the agreement, will provide water for island fires in return for fire district protection services.
Water District 19 General Manager Jim McRae said that the fire district uses approximately 250,000 gallons per year for training with a value of $4,000. Incident usage is more unpredictable, but he noted that at the recent fire at Sawbones, more than 300,000 gallons of water, including from the sprinkler system, was used. Residential fires require much less water, Krimmert noted.
Relying on the Sawbones figure, McRae valued fire district water usage at $4,800 per incident.
Krimmert is also working on finalizing an agreement with the Cemetery District, which is expected to provide and maintain a portion of land for a firefighters’ memorial.
Before Krimmert joined the district, VIFR’s only agreement was with the Airport District, which maintains the helipad and allows the district to use it in return for VIFR services.
Island activist Hilary Emmer was ill and did not attend the meeting, but sent a letter, asking that it be read into the minutes.
She noted the other districts do not pay the fire district and questioned “taking money from the right hand and giving it to the left.” She asked if VIFR had a vendetta against the park district and asked the fire district not to be greedy.
Krimmert said there is no vendetta and reviewed the various agreements, noting that water usage comes with a cost for Water District 19 and that the fire district rarely responds to the cemetery.
As for exchanging money, he said that is how business is routinely conducted.
“I believe Parks pays their water bill. I believe Parks pays their sewage bill, just like we do,” he said. “We very regularly, to run business, take money from one organization and give it to another. That is just the way the practice is done,” he said.
At the close of the meeting, fire officials said they hoped to reach an agreement with the park district by the end of March.