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Currently, there are 13 RFA’s in the state of Washington, including three in Snohomish County: the NCRFA, created in 2007—one of the first in the state; the South Snohomish County Regional Fire Authority, created in 2017; and the Marysville Fire District RFA created in 2019.
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A RFA is a special purpose district established by voters in a service area that provides funding for fire and emergency medical services. A RFA can be made up of cities, fire districts or a combination of the two. Creation of a RFA is authorized by state law (Chapter 52.26, Revised Code of Washington.
A RFA is created by development of a RFA Plan which is approved by a vote of the people in the proposed service area. The vote required is a simple majority, unless the financing proposal includes fire benefit charges or other 60% approval threshold. North County RFA was created in 2007 by combining Fire Districts 14 and 18. Voters in the two Districts approved the creation and funding of NCRFA at the August, 2006 election.
Cities or Fire Districts can join an existing RFA through a process called “annexation.” Annexation requires revision of the RFA Plan describing how the additional agency (city or fire district) would be served by the RFA; then, both the RFA and the agency proposing to annex must agree to the revised plan. After that, voters in the agency proposing to annex must approve the annexation. A simple majority vote is required to approve the annexation. This is the process that will be used for the potential annexation of Arlington in to the NCRFA. If the City Council and NCRFA Governing Board reach agreement on a revised RFA Plan, the City Council and NCRFA Governing Board will then submit the annexation measure to the voters of Arlington. The annexation must then be approved by a majority of Arlington voters. The City of Stanwood and NCRFA agreed to an annexation process in 2017; Stanwood voters approved the annexation of the City into NCRFA by a vote of 83.4% in favor at the November 2018 general election.
Arlington’s elected leaders and staff are exploring annexation with the leadership of the NCRFA for several reasons. First, it is anticipated that annexation would ensure better future funding stability for fire and emergency services in the City. Second, Annexation would enable additional efficiencies and service level improvements in delivery of fire and EMS services across both the NCRFA and the City. There are many ways in which the current partnership could be expanded if annexation occurred. Third, annexation would relieve some of the severe pressure on the City’s General Fund which supports a broad range of important services now in addition to Fire & EMS, specifically, police, streets, courts and jail services, parks and administrative functions. Another reason that Arlington is considering annexation is to give City voters a choice about how to fund their fire and EMS services: through the current City General Fund and Ambulance Utility Fee, or through voter-approved RFA fire and EMS levies.
If Arlington voters approve annexation of the City into the NCRFA, fire and emergency medical services will be provided under the direction and management of the NCRFA. Personnel that currently serve in the Arlington Fire Department will continue to serve the City but under the employment of the RFA. Fire Stations and fire and EMS vehicles currently serving Arlington will continue in operation unless or until they become obsolete, and will continue to be labelled “City of Arlington Fire.”
Under NCRFA’s current policies, upon annexation into the NCRFA, Arlington residents with health insurance or Medicaid/Medicare will no longer be billed for their deductible portion of the ambulance transport costs, regardless of whether the insurance company pays the full amount billed or not.
Annexation will enable immediate service level improvements by bringing in-house 24-7 staffing of incident command (currently contracted out to other fire agencies in part); increase the number of vehicles to respond in incidents; increase flexibility in deployment of firefighters and paramedics; and, it is anticipated, slightly reduce response times in rural and suburban areas.
The two agencies jointly fund and share:
Firefighters routinely train together across the two agencies, using common training software; this prevents duplication of effort by training staff. Both agencies respond to calls in the other’s territory almost daily, under mutual aid agreements. Both agencies are leaders in the Northwest Incident Support Program which provides chaplains at times of need, and food for crews on large scale incidents. Arlington and the NCRFA are also finalizing a program to share Part-Time Firefighters and emergency medical technicians (Expected implementation June 2020)
If the City and NCRFA reach agreement on an annexation plan this fall, the schedule calls for the plan to be placed before Arlington’s voters at the February 2021 election. If approved by voters, the annexation would take effect January 1, 2022. The proposed annexation operating plan is being developed jointly by Arlington and NCRFA with input from labor leaders and the public.
The answer to this question depends on multiple factors, including the taxable value of your real property. Once the annexation becomes effective, the Arlington Ambulance Utility fee will be repealed and Arlington’s EMS levy will be replaced by the NCRFA EMS levy. Real property in Arlington will become subject to the NCRFA fire levy.
Property owners in Arlington can anticipate paying more in property taxes overall (when combining the NCRFA and City property taxes) unless other City services are significantly cut. City leaders will be studying a full range of options over the next several months to determine what the City’s general levy rate will be in the upcoming 2021-2022 budget if the annexation is approved. The City Council and Mayor will consider both the savings to the City from shifting fire and EMS responsibility to the NCRFA, as well as the needs of other critical City services. Future City Council’s will need to determine future City levy rates for years after 2022.
The NCRFA is supported primarily by two property taxes: a fire levy and an EMS levy. Like the City Fire Department, the NCRFA also receives revenues from ambulance transports and other service fees and funds. The RFA’s property tax levies are subject to the same state limits as City property taxes. Periodic voter approval is needed to restore the purchasing power of the RFA’s property tax levies. In 2020, the NCRFA property tax levy rates are as follows:
Fire Levy: $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value
EMS levy: $0.39 per $1,000 of assessed value
The NCRFA is governed by a Governing Board, currently with 6 members. The Board’s powers are similar to those of a city council. The City and NCRFA are in discussion about how to add Arlington representation to the Governing Board of the NCRFA. This could take many forms, including one or more Board positions appointed by Arlington—permanently or temporarily, and/or by adding Board positions, either districted or at-large, which would be directly selected by voters.
The members of IAFF Local 3728, Arlington City Professional Firefighters, provide our earnest endorsement for asking the voters of Arlington to support a merger between Arlington City and the North County Regional Fire Authority.
All of our members are proud to work for the City of Arlington and appreciate the support that we have been shown by the city council. Joining the fire authority would allow for a more stable funding model and the ability to better serve the citizens of Arlington. Joining the two entities would allow for a more focused approach to fire and EMS services for both the city and the fire authority while eliminating redundancies.
Our members value the relationship that we have with our customers and assure you that we will continue that relationship. We look at the merger as an opportunity to share with others all the things that make working in Arlington a privilege. You can rest assured we will continue all of the community-oriented events that our city loves, as we take great pride in giving back to the citizens who support us.
We do not take this endorsement of a merger lightly. Our members have spent a significant amount of time weighing other options and see this merger as an opportunity to ensure adequate fire and EMS services to the community for the long-term. We ask that you vote yes to place the merger vote on the ballot
Funding for the City’s Fire and Emergency Services Department will continue to compete for funding with other City departments as part of the City’s budget process.