By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek.
At their special December 20, 2016, meeting the Mill Creek City Council voted unanimously to purchase the portion of Fire Station 76 that is not already owned by the city from Snohomish County Fire District 7. It is not clear why this decision was made.
The purchase of Fire District 7’s portion of Fire Station 76, which is located on Bothell-Everett Highway in Mill Creek, is a provision of the city’s 20-year contract with the fire district.
The fire services contract between the City of Mill Creek and Fire District7 was due to expire on December 31, 2016, but has been automatically renewed for one year while a new contract can be negotiated.
Mill Creek City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto recently formed a team to represent the city in the contract negotiations. It is comprised of Polizzotto herself, Director of Finance and Administration Peggy Lauerman, City Attorney Scott Missall, and former Mill Creek City Manager Bob Stowe.
The team provided historical, financial, and contractual information to the city council in the public portion of the December 20th meeting.
Stowe was city manager at the time the fire services contract with Fire District 7 was negotiated and provided some historical background for the city council.
He said that one of Mill Creek’s goals for the fire contract was to establish its own fire station within the city and to gain equity in the facility rather than continuing to pay rent.
Stowe stated, “A significant provision of the agreement (fire contract) was for the district to not only buy the land, but build the station and that both parties would gain equity in that facility over the years.”
As a result of the 20-year fire services contract with Mill Creek, Fire District 7 built Fire Station 76 in 1998.
The Mill Creek city council discussed the fire contract negotiations with Polizzotto’s team in a closed executive session that lasted almost an hour and a half.
After the city council came out of executive session, Polizzotto recommended that the city council exercise the option to buy Fire Station 76 from Fire District 7.
Without providing any specific reasons for the public she said, “It is the recommendation of the team that it is in the best interests of the city to move forward and exercise that right. We would ask for the council authorization to issue a notice to the fire district letting them know of the city’s intent to exercise the right to purchase the fire station.”
The city council voted unanimously to follow Polizzotto’s recommendation.
During the audience communication session at the end of the meeting Fire District 7 Commissioner and State Senator Guy Palumbo said that the city council’s decision raised the following questions: Is the city looking for a tenant relationship where the fire district pays rent? Who is going to handle the capital improvements? Who is responsible for the facility’s legal liability?
Palumbo stated that the fire district needed to make some capital improvements to the fire station, “We have been putting them off for two years and if we get a lawsuit it’s a problem. We have a legal liability and you are soon to be the owner of the building, so we need to figure out how to work that out. I just wanted to put that out there and get it on the record.”
In a December 23rd interview Fire District 7 Commissioner Randy Fay said he understood the city’s position. He said owning the station gives Mill Creek the best situation.
Fay reiterated that there are issues to be worked out as ownership of Fire Station 76 transfers to the City of Mill Creek as Palumbo stated at the city council meeting.
According to Fay, the fire district is legally obligated to build separate sleeping accommodations for female firefighters at Fire Station 76. At the present time, the facility only has bunks in one room, which is not acceptable for today’s staffing requirements.
He went on to say that the capital improvement estimates they have received range from $40,000 to $60,000.
When asked about his goals for a new Mill Creek fire contract Fay replied, “From the very beginning of contract negotiations, the fire district’s goal was to renew vows rather than begin a new marriage. We want to do whatever we can do to meet the city’s needs.”
“On our side the bottom line is the safety of our personnel, which requires a certain staffing level.”
Fay said both sides are preparing agendas for the upcoming contract negotiation meetings. He went on to say the next meeting is scheduled for Monday, January 23rd.
In response to a December 21st email inquiring about fire contract issues, Mill Creek Police Chief and Acting Public Information Officer Greg Elwin wrote, “As far as your questions related to the fire contract, much of that information is part of our active negotiations so we will not want to comment.”
Elwin went on to say that City Manager Polizzotto was on vacation and public information regarding the fire station purchase and the fire contract negotiations wouldn’t be available until after her return on January 3rd.