City Council set to approve interlocal agreement to consolidate 911 call centers

SNOCOM service area.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its Nov. 2 work/study session reviewed the proposed interlocal agreement for consolidation of the region’s two 9-1-1 emergency call centers, SNOCOM and SNOPAC. The council is scheduled to approve the agreement during its business meeting Monday, Nov. 6.

For the past 18 months, Mountlake Terrace elected officials — along with other elected officials and staff from the County’s two 9-1-1 agencies, police and fire agencies, and SERS (emergency radio system) — have been studying whether to consolidate the two Snohomish County dispatch centers into a single agency.

A joint task force was formed looking at ways to improve service and reduce costs while maintaining system resiliency and redundancy. The task force also wanted to develop a governance model that represented the interests of the community, first responders and employees of SNOCOM and SNOPAC.

The SNOCOM and SNOPAC boards in October voted to consolidate the county’s two 9-1-1 centers, effective Jan. 1, 2018, leaving it up to individual municipalities to decide whether they wanted to participate in the new system.

Both SNOCOM, located in Mountlake Terrace, and SNOPAC, in Everett, were founded in the 1970s and are staffed 24 hours a day to answer police, fire and related emergency calls. SNOCOM serves roughly 30 percent of Snohomish County’s population while SNOPAC serves about 70 percent.

SNOCOM 9-1-1 Executive Director Terry Peterson has said the consolidation is the first step toward eliminating the 45,000 to 50,000 9-1-1 transfers that occur between the two centers each year. In addition, the newly approved agreement includes a projected cost savings of nearly $1 million annually. City Manager Scott Hugill said that it’s estimated Mountlake Terrace would save about $100,000 annually.

Early on in this study, the boards agreed that any labor reductions would occur over time through attrition and that there would be no layoffs. It remains to be seen whether the attrition will occur as expected, Hugill said.

Discussions regarding a possible merger have been going on for years. In 2015, Snohomish County commissioned a study that recommended the two entities – which represent a total of 53 agencies – be combined.

The SNOPAC call center – located in the same building as the Everett Police Department South Precinct – is large enough to accommodate both operations for the next 10 years. Additional parking would be required, as would renovation of vacant building space for additional offices.

The task force has estimated the one-time transition costs for moving the merged organization to the new facility will fall in the range of $819,000 to $1.5 million.

The plan calls for the SNOCOM facility in Mountlake Terrace to stay open as a “warm back-up,”, and it will also be used as a training facility, City Manager Scott Hugill told the council Nov. 2.

Governance was a sticky issue during merger discussions. Although there are 50-plus public safety agencies, for efficiency the joint task force decided on a 15-member board – 10 dedicated to jurisdictions with police agencies and five to jurisdictions with fire agencies. There is also one additional non-voting member that would represent the handful of agencies that contract all of their police and fire service out and so are not directly served by SNOCOM/SNOPAC.

Individual board members would be selected through a “caucus process.” Mountlake Terrace, with a population of 21,090, is in a caucus with seven other cities of similar or lesser populations, and that caucus gets three seats. It is up to that caucus to elect three people total from those seven jurisdictions to sit on the merged SNOCOM/SNOPAC board. Those representatives can be either elected officials or appointed ones (such as police chiefs) but there must be one each elected and appointed out of the three.

Caucus member would be elected during a general assembly every two years.

Each of the participants pays a fee to their respective call center to cover the service, and the task force also developed a new assessment formula for the merged organizations. The result is that some agencies will see cost decreases and others – in particular, Snohomish County Fire District 1 – will see substantial increases. To address this, the task force came up with a plan for rate smoothing during the first full year of operations, that requires all agencies seeing 9 percent or greater savings to contribute up to 30 percent of that to those agencies seeing a 9 percent or greater cost increase.

The merger will take effect Jan. 1, 2018, which would give the agencies a full year to make the transition before full operations begin in January 2019. The name of the new organization would be Snohomish County 9-1-1.

The council also at its Nov. 2 meeting:

– Reviewed city departments’ performance measures for January-June 2017.

– Received city council training from the city attorney.

– Reviewed and agreed to place on the Nov. 6 agenda an ordinance aimed at correcting an ordinance the council adopted on Oct. 16, 2017 that inadvertently listed parking restrictions on the west side of 64th Avenue West from 236th Street Southwest to 234th Street Southwest. The location should have been on the east side of the same street.

Other items that the council will consider at its Nov. 6 meeting include:

– An update from Edmonds School District Superintendent Dr. Kristine McDuffy.

– Approval to submit an application for a 2018 Community Development Block Grant.

– Public hearing and adoption of an ordinance to amend the city’s final plat review process. The issue is whether the city should follow its current procedure – during which the Planning Commission considers and makes a recommendation on the preliminary plat to the City Council. The council then holds a public hearing, and a public meeting to approve the final plat. The council will consider the idea – now authorized following changes to state law – of allowing city staff the ability review and approve final plats.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. in interim Mountlake Terrace City Hall, 6100 219th St. S..W, 2nd floor. You can see the complete agenda here.

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