The Black Diamond City Council has decided how it’s going to move forward in retaining fire and emergency services for local residents.
The council came to an unofficial consensus to continue contracting with Mountain View Fire and Rescue until the city can afford to be annexed into the fire district during a special March 29 meeting.
The meeting was held before new Council members Debbie Page and Leih Mulvihill were appointed to the council on April 1.
Black Diamond has been in talks with Mountain View for years now about how the city supposedly underpays the fire department. The debate came to a head November 2019 when the fire department gave the city council until January 2023 to pay the department more, or fire services would cease.
“The board of commissioners does not take this decision lightly but given the inability to make progress in contract negotiations with the city over the past three years, we did not want to delay a potential termination for another year,” the official letter of intent to the council reads.
After being put on notice, the city council hired FCS Group, a consulting firm, to study the city’s options in retaining fire services — contracting with Mountain View, annexing into Mountain View’s district, annexing into the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority’s fire district, or forming a city fire department — and how each option would affect taxpayers in Black Diamond.
Each option came with its own price tag, and none of them are cheap. However, it appears the city council has chosen the comparatively less expensive option of continuing to contact with Mountain View until the city has enough tax revenue — and the will of the voters — to be annexed into the fire district.
Continuing to contract with Mountain View will mean several things.
First, it means the city will have to pay the fire department far more money than they have been in recent years. Currently, the city pays Mountain View roughly $615,000 annually for fire and emergency services. However, FCS Group estimates that cost will spike by about $1.1 million for a total of $1.7 million per year.
However, the city doesn’t just have an extra million lying around, which means the city will likely ask voters for what’s known as a “levy lid lift” — in layman’s terms, increasing local property taxes.
FCS estimated the city would have to increase the property tax levy rate from $2.26 per $1,000 in assessed property value to around $3.25 per $1,000 in assessed property value in order to both pay Mountain View and retain the current level of other city services; this would mean the average annual property tax would increase from $1,130 to $1,625 for property owners with a $500,000 home.
But continuing to contract with Mountain View indefinitely is like “kicking the can down the road,” said Councilwoman Tamie Deady, which is why the city would like to eventually annex into the fire district.
Annexation, though, is an expensive and time-consuming task. According to FCS’ calculations, Black Diamond would lose between $1.1 and $1.7 million in annual property tax revenue when it is annexed, and it would take at least the rest of 2021 and all of 2022 to do so — hence the need to continue contracting until the city is prepared to bring an annexation ballot measure to citizens.
“We should work on getting together a pre-annexation agreement with the department, with the realization that it’s not a thing that happens overnight,” said Councilman Chris Wisnoski.
Mountain View Fire Chief Greg Smith voiced approval at the council’s direction, and said, “I believe our board is more than willing to work cooperatively with the city of Black Diamond.”