Despite city promises to maintain current levels of fire and emergency-medical services, Snohomish Fire District 1 is opposing a second ballot measure that would authorize Bothell to annex an area with 22,283 residents.
Bothell City Council members, again trying to add more than 22,000 new residents, have promised it won’t take any longer for firetrucks and ambulances to reach them.
But that hasn’t satisfied annexation opponents, who are fighting just as vigorously this time around and say they don’t trust the city’s promises.
Voters outside the city’s west, north and east borders will decide in an April 17 election whether to become part of Bothell. Ballots were mailed to voters Thursday.
If annexation is approved, it would add 22,283 new citizens to a city of 33,505 that straddles the King-Snohomish county line. The “NEWBA” area — for North, East and West of Bothell Annexation — lies entirely within Snohomish County.
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If approved, annexation would take effect Jan. 1.
Nearly 53 percent of voters in the annexation area rejected a similar ballot measure in November after Snohomish County’s largest fire district said the city’s emergency-services plans could mean longer waits for firetrucks and paramedics responding to 911 calls.
Firefighters and commissioners in Fire District 1 are again warning that the future of a fire station is uncertain and emergency services could be compromised.
Pro-annexation activists say opponents are using unfounded scare tactics that have overshadowed the benefits of joining the city: lower taxes, better overall services and a more responsive local government.
The City Council, recognizing that campaigning by firefighters helped sink the first annexation vote, has promised this time around to keep two fire stations open and staffed at the same levels they are staffed by the two fire districts that now own them.
Fire District 1 rejected a city proposal under which it would keep the Damson Road fire station open for at least five years if that area were annexed and District 1 would keep it open for the same period if annexation didn’t take place.
The city also pledged to keep a paramedic on duty along with firefighters — something it didn’t do in the November election — leading District 1 commissioners to say as recently as last month the city was “not likely” to maintain current service levels.
“They won’t take yes for an answer,” Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb said of the fire district’s rejection of the city’s proposed agreement. He said the city would keep the station open, despite the district’s resistance.
District Commissioner Richard Schrock said Bothell’s proposal was “a unilateral action” that followed several months of silence and arrived without prior notice to the district.
Schrock said his district wanted to see evidence that Bothell is capable of providing service equivalent to what the fire district now provides. “Bothell has not evidenced plans that they are capable of doing that,” he said.
Commission Chair David Chan, in a letter to Lamb, blasted the proposed agreement as a “political ploy” and asked that Bothell “please respect the will of the people.”
Bothell’s relations with Fire District 7 have been more amicable. Those two jurisdictions signed an agreement Wednesday under which the city would take over the station on 45th Avenue Southeast and hire 10 firefighters who would be laid off by the district.
The pact will “ensure you receive the same high quality response to your emergency services needs following annexation,” Bothell and District 7 said in a letter to residents.
Annexation booster Patrick LeDoux, a rural King County firefighter whose home is in Snohomish Fire District 1, said he’s confident the city would do the same “great job” the independent fire district has done.
“It’s not a public-safety issue whatsoever,” LeDoux said. “If people can see through all the rhetoric, this is about local control of our government, lower taxes and better services.”
NEWBA residents would have more say in local government, he said, helping elect all seven City Council members instead of one of five Snohomish County Council members.
City officials calculate annexation would reduce the total property tax on a typical $300,000 home by $504 a year. Taking into account the city’s utility tax, surface-water-management and garbage fees, the net saving would be $288.
“To be honest with you, this issue from a voter’s standpoint is really a no-brainer,” Lamb said. “I think the only reason the voters are at all in limbo on this issue is because of the massive influx of special-interest money in this election.”
Support for the competing campaigns reflects the reality that some fire and police agencies in Snohomish County would lose jobs while city agencies would be hiring.
Through Friday, unions representing Fire District 1 and 7 firefighters contributed $22,000 of the $23,430 in the no campaign.
Top contributors to the $15,936 yes campaign were LeDoux, who gave $6,176, and the Bothell Police Officers Guild, $6,000.
Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick recorded a robocall message for the no campaign, in his words “to dispute the idea that annexation by the city of Bothell will improve law-enforcement services to your neighborhood.”
Retired chief skeptical
Bud NcCorchuk, a retired Fire District 1 battalion chief and spokesman for the no campaign, said he’s suspicious of the city’s motives.
“Having this vote right after the first one tells us they really don’t care about us,” NcCorchuk said. “They just want our money. People here can see through the presentations.”
A city-commissioned 2011 study by consultant BERK found that annexation would help Bothell weather impending financial challenges — but that future city councils might seek to raise property, business and utility taxes to balance the budget.
If voters decide to become part of Bothell, NcCorchuk said, they should expect to be told later the city needs to raise taxes in order to avoid service cutbacks.
City officials note that Fire District 1 also is facing budget shortfalls that will require more belt-tightening or higher taxes.
There’s another issue for some independent-minded residents, NcCorchuk said: the kind of “government intrusion” that comes with rules such as mandatory garbage pickup: “How can they tell me what to do with my garbage?”
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or email@example.com