Kenmore and Lake Forest Park city councils have both voted to oppose the proposed merger of Northshore Fire Department and Woodinville Fire & Rescue.
The consolidation of the two fire districts will be decided by Northshore voters in an April 27 special election.
On March 22, Kenmore city council members voted unanimously to pass a resolution opposing the ballot measure after hearing public comment from firefighters who spoke against the merger as well as fire commissioners who spoke in favor of it.
Lake Forest Park city council members voted unanimously with one abstention for a similar resolution on April 8. Greg Ahearn, who serves as Woodinville Fire & Rescue fire chief and interim chief at Northshore Fire Department, spoke in favor of the merger in a presentation to council members. He said the consolidation of districts could increase training opportunities, improve services, save administrative costs and save tax payer money.
Ahearn said a third-party financial analyst helped create the projected budget for the new combined agency and that the districts took a “fiscally conservative approach” to ensure long-term sustainability.
International Association of Firefighters Local 2459, the union representing Northshore firefighters, member Jeremey Jamerson argued that the proposed merger would not increase service and that the district had presented misleading and unsustainable numbers in its projected budget.
The unions from both districts recently came out against the ballot measure after negotiations with administration failed. The majority of fire commissioners from both boards have maintained support for the move, although on March 16, the Northshore fire commissioners briefly suspended efforts to move forward in order to work further with the union. However, on March 23, the board reversed its decision.
“I am just really heartsick over the level of conflict and dissension that this situation has crated in our community,” Lake Forest Park Deputy Mayor Phillippa Kassover said at the meeting.
She said that while mergers are often positive, the organization shouldn’t move forward until its labor force is on board.
Other council members were concerned with the disparate accounts of the financials given from the firefighters and the administration.
“The homework is not done,” said Councilmember Tom French, “and that concerns me.”
Woodinville City Council voted in February on a resolution to show its support for the proposed merger. At the time, council members said they had not heard any comment in opposition to the move.