Mill Creek Petitions South County Fire for Annexation

Mill Creek Petitions South County Fire for Annexation
Posted on 12/15/2021
The Mill Creek City Council is one step closer to asking voters whether or not to annex to South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue Regional Fire Authority (South County Fire) for fire and emergency medical service. At their recent meeting, City Councilmembers unanimously passed a resolution petitioning the South County Fire Board of Fire Commissioners to let the City annex. Mill Creek residents would vote on the issue during a special election this spring if accepted. 

South County Fire is headquartered south of Everett and serves unincorporated south Snohomish County and the city of Lynnwood. It also provides fire and emergency medical services (EMS) to the cities of Brier, Edmonds, and Mountlake Terrace under three separate service contracts.

Mill Creek currently contracts with Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue (SRFR) for fire and EMS. In addition to Mill Creek, SRFR serves the cities of Monroe and Lake Stevens and the unincorporated areas around them. 

Mill Creek property owners pay a general tax levy and an EMS levy to the City, which, in turn, pays SRFR for service. Of the general property tax levy, $0.51 per $1,000 of assessed property value goes for fire service. The EMS levy is at $0.37 per $1,000. Together, the equivalent amount for fire and EMS is $0.88 per $1,000 for Mill Creek property owners in 2021. Most Snohomish County property owners pay closer to $2 per $1,000 for the same services.

The City started exploring all other options for fire and EMS after SRFR informed Mill Creek that it would not renew the contract at the end of 2022 without a significant cost increase. It became clear that there was no option from any service provider to maintain the quality and level of service without significant cost increases.

“We have been very fortunate to have this rate, but that contract is coming to an end,” said Mill Creek Interim City Manager Martin Yamamoto. “Both SRFR and South County provide a high level of care and quality emergency services. All things being equal, annexing to South County Fire is the most cost-effective for Mill Creek taxpayers.”

South County Fire funds fire and EMS through a fire levy, a levy for emergency medical service, and a fire benefit charge. The equivalent rate for property owners in 2022 is projected to be $1.51 per $1,000. SRFR’s rates are projected to be $1.83 per $1,000 for fire and EMS. 

Mill Creek voters must agree by a simple majority to annex to South County Fire during a spring Special Election. The annexation would take effect in August 2022.  Under annexation, Mill Creek property owners would pay South County Fire directly for service beginning in 2023. The City can reduce its general levy by the amount property owners currently pay, or retain some portion of that revenue to fund public services such as police, roads, and parks.  

If voters choose not to annex, the City will need to raise more revenue to pay for higher emergency service costs. This could include asking voters to increase the EMS levy and general property tax levy in addition to other options.

“The fact is that we’re going to pay more for fire and emergency medical service. The question is how much more and to whom,” said Martin Yamamoto. “This will be an ongoing public process, and we look forward to the dialogue with residents.”