Annexation to South County Fire on Ballots

Annexation to South County Fire on Mill Creek Election Ballots in April
Posted on 02/16/2022
South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue Regional Fire AuthorityThe Mill Creek City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking residents to annex into South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue Regional Fire Authority (South County Fire). The request will be on the April 26, 2022 Special Election ballot.

The City took this step after exploring options to replace its expiring contract for fire and emergency medical service (EMS) with a different provider. South County Fire was the lowest cost option providing the same level of service for Mill Creek residents and property owners.

“It’s imperative that we protect the quality and level of emergency services that we have already for families and businesses,” said Mill Creek City Councilmember Stephanie Vignal. “South County Fire provides the same level and quality of care for the lowest cost.”

Many property owners in Snohomish County pay closer to $2 per $1,000 of assessed property value for a 24-hour fire and EMS response. In 2022, South County Fire charges property owners the equivalent rate of $1.51 per $1,000. If annexation were in effect in 2022, the owner of a 2,000 square foot home with an assessed value of $602,000 (considered the average for Mill Creek) would pay South County Fire a total of $882.73 for the year.

If voters approve annexing, the Mill Creek City Council has agreed to reduce its general property tax collections by $4.3 million in 2023. That amount equals what the City paid for fire and EMS in 2022 to a third-party provider.

“Council and staff feel strongly that reducing property tax collections by the full amount of the current fire/EMS contract is the right way forward,” said Scott Harder, Mill Creek Communications and Marketing Coordinator. He is the City’s spokesperson for the South County Fire annexation project, as well as a resident of Mill Creek. 

Harder is also quick to point out that the City will have to increase taxes to pay for higher contract costs if annexation fails. “If voters decide not to annex, the City will have to cut services significantly, and find new revenues to pay for contract fire/EMS services.”

The Council has been discussing its options to fund higher contract costs for fire and EMS if annexation is not approved. These include asking voters to increase the EMS levy and the City’s general property tax levy, and having the City Council pass a new utility tax.

Contracting for emergency services is not ideal for cities or the agencies providing the service. As costs increase, fire/EMS competes for funding with other city services, such as police, roads and parks. 

From a fire agency’s perspective, contract relationships with cities can be difficult. Cities push hard to keep costs as low as possible while agencies require higher contract rates to cover their costs. Agencies also are hesitant to make investments long-term in a community’s emergency service needs when a contract can end with just one or two-years’ notice. Under annexation, property owners would pay South County Fire directly for service removing the City as the intermediary.

South County Fire is headquartered south of Everett and serves unincorporated southeast Snohomish County north and west of Mill Creek, and the cities of Lynnwood, Brier, Edmonds, and Mountlake Terrace. The agency operates 14 fire stations, several of which are close to City borders. South County Fire often responds to fire and EMS calls in Mill Creek as the closest available unit. 

If annexation is approved, South County Fire would staff the current Mill Creek Fire Station with the same number of firefighters, paramedics and emergency apparatus. As part of the annexation agreement, the station would become part of South County Fire’s capital assets. All firefighters can continue to be employed with either South County Fire or their current employer.

South County Fire funds emergency services with a fire levy, an EMS levy and a fire benefit charge. A fire benefit charge has gained popularity with homeowners in recent years because it reduces a government’s reliance on property taxes.

Property tax levy rates are based on the assessed value of a property. Two properties of the same size and use can be valued differently depending on their location. This results in different property tax amounts when the cost to serve the properties is about the same.

With a fire benefit charge, the maximum fire levy rate is reduced from $1.50 to $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. An agency then applies a formula for the fire benefit charge based on a property’s size and risk of fire. Single family homes pay less than commercial developments and multi-story buildings because it costs less to defend them in a fire. In 2022, a 2,000 square foot home pays South County Fire a benefit charge of $70.03 a year. Property owners have the right to appeal their benefit charge, and any discounts for seniors or low-income households still apply.

“There’s a lot of fatigue for property taxes as a funding source for anything government – fire/EMS, schools, cities. A fire benefit charge is an attractive option because it reduces the need for property taxes as a funding source,” said Mill Creek Mayor Brian Holtzclaw. 

More information about the annexation request and a fire benefit charge is available at