News

1+1=1 in fire districts' proposal for merging

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Next month, voters in Des Moines will decide whether to merge their fire department with Federal Way’s.

Fire commissioners and officials from both districts have been working on a merger plan for several months. In July, the two commissions agreed on the new name –– South King Fire and Rescue –– if the voters approve Proposition 2 in the primary election Sept. 20.

King County Fire District 26 serves the area within Des Moines city limits. It has one fire house, full-time professional firefighters and a resident firefighter program, and serves an area of about five square miles. The district also has a fire and rescue boat.

Federal Way voters won’t vote on the issue because their district is the “hosting” district, according to Federal Way Fire Department chief Al Church.

Officials say the merger would increase the efficiency of both districts.

Should the two districts be allowed to merge, the firefighters in each district will not be allowed to transfer between stations for the first couple of years while the two districts get used to being one entity. But crews would start cross-training immediately.

Federal Way has a hazardous materials team and a technical rescue team.

There is opposition from one fire commissioner. Jerry Harris, a commissioner for the Des Moines district, has said he is worried the smaller district will get swallowed up by Federal Way’s much larger district and voters in the area will lose representation.

Initially, all eight commissioners –– five from Federal Way and three from Des Moines –– would serve on a single board. As the election cycle brings the officeholders’ terms to an end, the commissioners would have to run against each other or walk away from the board to bring the number to five.

Harris also claims the planned merger will cost more than is anticipated because of the salary increases for firefighters and staff at District 26.

Officials at both districts have said nobody will lose their jobs in a merger. Church and District 26 chief Jim Polhamus will co-lead the new district and oversee different aspects of the combined operation. It’s expected that Polhamus will retire in the near future, at which time Church would assume sole command of the enjoined districts.

Des Moines voters are also being asked to consider a levy lid lift of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, as are voters in the current Federal Way service area of about 34 square miles and 100,000-plus residents. Church said if both the levy and the merger pass, the districts won’t have to do any fancy math to bring the levies together since they are the same rate.

If the levy lid lift doesn’t pass, the Des Moines commissioners can put it on the ballot again. If it still doesn’t pass but the merger is approved, Federal Way Fire Department might be able to collect the $1.50 from the former District 26 area, based on an opinion from the state Department of Revenue.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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