MILL CREEK — Mill Creek voters will decide next week whether a nearby agency will step in to provide fire services within the city when the city’s current emergency services contract with a different provider expires at the end of the year.
In the April 26 special election, the city is asking voters to consider annexing into South County Fire — or, as the ballots say, “South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue Regional Fire Authority.”
City leaders say annexation is the lowest-cost option for residents to continue receiving the same quality and level of fire service. Renewing the current contract, with neighboring Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue, would require a substantial cost increase, according to Mill Creek officials.
“We had a good deal for many years, but that’s over when the contract expires,” Scott Harder, a communications coordinator for Mill Creek, said in a recent news release. “Whether annexation passes or fails, the reality is that property owners will pay more for these life-saving services.”
If voters approve the ballot measure, South County Fire will begin operating from the city’s fire station 24 hours a day with the same number of firefighters and vehicles there now, according to the news release. Residents would pay taxes directly to South County Fire, instead of paying them to the city, as is now the case.
South County Fire is funded by two property tax levies — one for emergency medical services and one for fire services — plus a “fire benefit charge,” a fee based on the size and use of a structure, calculated to consider the resources that would be needed to fight a fire there. In 2022, all those costs would have amounted to about $880 for a 2,000-square-foot home valued at $602,000, the average in Mill Creek, according to a fact sheet from the city about the ballot question.
If annexation passes, the city would also stop collecting $4.3 million in taxes for the current fire contract by reducing its general property tax levy and removing its EMS levy, the fact sheet says.
“The net result is that the average homeowner would pay an additional $379.26 a year ($31.61 a month) for emergency services if annexation were in place in 2022,” the fact sheet says.
If voters do not approve the annexation, city officials have warned, Mill Creek will have to cut fire services “significantly” or find new revenue. The city might ask voters to increase its property tax levies. The City Council could also pass a new utility tax to pay for increased costs.
South County Fire is the largest provider of fire and emergency medical services in Snohomish County, according to the agency’s website. The fire authority’s service area spans a 50-square-mile area that includes Lynnwood, Edmonds, Brier and Mountlake Terrace. Its firefighters already respond to some calls for service in Mill Creek under a mutual aid agreement.
Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue, Mill Creek’s current contract agency, primarily serves residents in Monroe, Lake Stevens and parts of unincorporated southeast Snohomish County.
“SRFR’s contract with Mill Creek will expire at the end of the year. The contract was not renewed because our agency felt strongly that our residents do not subsidize fire and EMS service for Mill Creek,” Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin O’Brien wrote in a letter to the editor. “Loss of the Mill Creek contract will not impact the quality or level of emergency services district residents receive. SRFR is financially sound and can weather the revenue loss.”
Ballots for the special election next Tuesday were mailed on April 7.
If voters choose to return their ballots via mail, they must be postmarked on or before April 26.
Voters can also deposit their ballots in one of the county’s 24-hour drop boxes, which will be open until 8 p.m. that night. Drop box locations include McCollum Park, at 600 128th St. SE in Everett, and the intersection of 159th Place SE and Mill Creek Boulevard, near the Mill Creek post office.
For more information about the Mill Creek ballot measure, visit is cityofmillcreek.com/fire.
Residents can also contact city communication coordinator Scott Harder with questions at 425-582-6015, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; email@example.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.