The Brier City Council voted Monday, Jan. 23 to approve a South County Regional Fire Authority (RFA) plan, taking steps to put before voters the question of whether the city should be annexed into the fire authority before the end of this year.
The decision came after the council received a letter from the fire authority — otherwise known as South County Fire — in January 2022 alerting the city that its 20-year interlocal agreement with the fire authority would end n December 2024. The letter said the fire authority was not interested in signing another long-term agreement with Brier.
Councilmembers held 12 meetings with RFA staff throughout 2022 to discuss options for the city moving forward.
“I had predicted based on our budget and revenues that the city would not be able to pay for the costs of the RFA without drastic increases to revenue sources or the annexation,” Brier City Clerk and Treasurer Paula Swisher said in an email.
The city hired a third-party consultant, BERK, to examine Brier’s long-range financial picture. The consultant provided its results to the council at a special meeting Nov. 29, 2022.
The most notable finding BERK announced was that without fire authority annexation and additional levies, the city’s general fund would be depleted by 2026 due to the cost of fire services alone.
Brier will pay the RFA approximately $1.3 million in 2023 for fire services. If the city is not annexed, it will end up paying the authority $1.4 million in 2024 and see a large increase to $2.5 million in 2025, with rates rising even higher in the following years.
If voters choose not to annex the city into the fire authority, they will need to approve three separate additional property tax levies with rates of no less than $1.20 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2024 to keep the general fund from being depleted, the BERK findings showed.
Annexation would allow the city to remain financially stable. However, with annexation, the city would not be able to decrease property taxes – what they call “Give Back” – without putting more financial strain on the city’s funds.
Citing the city’s financial situation and the fact that other cities near Brier are choosing to annex, councilmembers unanimously approved the RFA plan Jan. 23 and will vote at its Feb. 14 meeting whether to bring the matter before voters.
South County Fire is a regional fire authority established in 2017 by voters in unincorporated southwest Snohomish County and the City of Lynnwood. City of Mill Creek voters approved annexation into the regional fire authority in 2022. The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its Thursday, Jan. 12 work/study session voted to place a measure before voters this April asking whether the city should annex into the fire authority.
To prepare for a possible annexation vote, the city is now looking for individuals to serve on the voters pamphlet pro and con committees. Each committee will have a maximum of three members who will be approved by the Brier City Council to provide statements in favor of or in opposition to the ballot measure.
Individuals interested in serving on either committee can submit their name and a short statement of interest to Paula Swisher at email@example.com or 425-775-5440 no later than Thursday, Feb. 9, at 5 p.m. No late applications will be accepted.
Applicants need to announce which committee – pro or con – they are applying for and whether they are willing to be the committee spokesperson.
The council is expected to consider all applications at its Feb. 14 meeting.
Statements will be due to Snohomish County Elections by March 1.
— By Lauren Reichenbach
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