Council sets dates to interview councilmember candidates, discusses alternate fire service possibilities for 2025

Mountlake Terrace interim City Manager Andrew Neiditz discusses the city’s fire service possibilities.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council Tuesday night decided to split Position 3 council seat candidate interviews into a two-day affair as current councilmembers said they would prefer to interview all 13 candidates before eliminating any from the pool.

The Position 3 seat was recently vacated after the resignation of former councilmember Doug McCardle. While councilmembers usually reduce the number of applicants to around seven before beginning the interview process, they decided Tuesday to interview all 13 applicants instead. 

“While 13 is a larger number than [the council has interviewed] before, it’s still a manageable number,” said interim City Manager Andrew Neiditz.

Councilmember Steve Woodard said he’s excited to meet every person who applied. The process will give applicants a fairer chance because the council will make a decision based on the actual individuals rather than “who the best writer is.”

The council originally wanted to conduct the interviews within the next two weeks, but due to councilmember scheduling conflicts, the interviews will not take place until Jan. 30 and 31. Starting at 6 p.m. each night, candidates will be interviewed for approximately 20 minutes each.

In other business, the council agreed to schedule a workshop to further discuss how it will spend the remainder of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds the city was allocated. While councilmembers have entertained numerous ideas for how to spend the funds, there is still roughly $4.6 million left of the original $5.9 million the city was given in 2020.

“The city has been very conservative and cautious in budgeting [the funds] in the recent years,” Neiditz said.

Councilmembers agreed to hold a workshop in the next two months to discuss how they will spend some, or all, of the funds in the next two years. The council has until the end of 2024 to allocate the money.

The council also received a presentation on future fire service options for the city. A council committee has been researching whether the city will be interested in pursuing possible annexation into the South County Fire regional fire authority, which now provides fire services under contract with Mountlake Terrace. The annexation would have to be approved by Mountlake Terrace voters to proceed.

Neiditz said the city’s current 20-year interlocal agreement with South County Fire will end at the end of 2024, and the fire district is not interested in renewing another long-term contract with the city.

“The cost of fire services is one of the largest cost items within the city budget right now,” he said.

It’s estimated that fire support services in 2023 will cost the city $3.4 million. While it’s one of the most costly items in the city’s budget, Neiditz admitted that the fire district’s agreement with Mountlake Terrace is an incredibly good financial deal and the city has been fortunate to receive such low-cost support.

Neiditz said one option for Mountlake Terrace would be to reestablish its own fire department.

“However, that would be very expensive and would take a long time to do so,” he said.

Because of that, the city manager said it would not be wise for the council to consider that option as it would cost residents substantially more than if the city annexed into the fire authority or contracted with another city for fire services.

Neiditz said South County Fire is willing to negotiate a shorter contract term with the city but doing so would cost residents approximately double what they currently pay for fire services. This option, he said, should only be considered as a short-term solution should annexation be turned down by city voters.

The city is currently in an interlocal agreement with South County Fire, a contract that will expire at the end of 2024.

South County Fire is strongly encouraging Mountlake Terrace to annex. If the city decides to do so, current fire and emergency medical services (EMS) would be maintained and the fire service plans to move more resources to Fire Station 19, which is located in Mountlake Terrace.

Additionally, annexing into South County Fire would help stabilize the city’s property tax and move the city budget toward more long-term stability, Neiditz said.

Both choices, annexing or signing a short-term contract, will cause increases to residents’ fire service bills. However, Neidlitz said that with a short-term contract, the city will need to spend reserves, find one-time funds or make major budget cuts to pay for a one-year contract with South County Fire in 2025. Financially, the city would struggle if voters decide to take that route.

The city manager said the preferred timeline for voting on the fire authority annexation would be before the end of 2023. However, if a vote does not happen this year, it would need to occur no later than April 2024 to take effect before South County Fire’s agreement with Mountlake Terrace expires at the end of the year.

In other business, the council received a city manager report from Neiditz.

The city’s recreation and parks department is set to remove a few outdated play structures, like the hay wagon, from the Bicentennial Playground in the upcoming months.

“Unfortunately the hay wagon is no longer safe,” the city manager said. “It no longer meets our standards. There is no way to install a contemporary hay wagon, so we are going to have to completely remove it.”

Neiditz said city staff will try to find ways to recycle as much of the play structure’s materials as possible. The wheels of the hay wagon will be donated for a local art project and some of the metal will be repurposed around the city as well.

— By Lauren Reichenbach

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