An update on SNOCOM consolidation

Jun 15, 2017

All too frequently, elected officials create outside quasi-governmental agencies that have taxing authority or simply send a bill for services to a city.  Mill Creek receives “assessments” for services from several organizations including SNOCOM.  We will pay $445,339 for our emergency dispatch services in 2017.  SNOCOM covers 30 percent of Snohomish County and provides a high level of service. (I serve on its board.)

There is a similar organization called SNOPAC that covers 70 percent of the county.  Mill Creek shares the border between these two organizations so sometimes our 911 calls go to the wrong agency and need to be “transferred.”

There has been a strong push to consolidate the two agencies.  There are good and bad aspects to a merger.  It has been referred to as a “marriage.” If that’s the case, I want to negotiate a pre-nup.

Let me say that if we were creating a new agency today, I would not create two separate agencies. The hope is through consolidation, we will have something even better than the two agencies we have now.  I also understand that we are creating a monopoly and monopolies tend to act in their own self-interest.

In past years, Fire District 1 was with SNOCOM and switched to SNOPAC and then came back to SNOCOM.  Mill Creek was with SNOPAC and switched to SNOCOM.  With a monopoly, there will be nowhere to go.

One concern is that Mill Creek will lose its voice at the table.  Right now, we have a vote on everything at SNOCOM.  After the merger, eight cities will share three votes.  At most, two will be elected representatives because one must be an operations staffer.

The big dogs will become even bigger.

Another concern is cost containment.  Currently there is no interest in having cost containment measures to limit assessment increases.  We are being offered a super majority vote as “protection.”  Worse, a current proposal says a super majority vote will be needed only when assessment increases exceed CPI plus 4 percent.  Cities can only raise property taxes 1 percent.  How is Mill Creek supposed to pay bills with no ceiling?

There are good, well-meaning people sitting at the table now.  Many won’t be here in five or 10 years.  What happens to our city budgets then?  We need to plan ahead now.

One of the selling points of a consolidation is that Mill Creek is going to save money.  For the first year, Mill Creek was expected to give back 25 percent of its savings to help those who are going to have to pay more.  There was no guarantee of savings but we were expected to guarantee the 25 percent payment based on 2017 numbers.  That made no sense.  We got that changed to a formula.

No savings equals no rebate.

I’ve asked that a group of city managers be able to get together to develop some proposals that would contain costs.  They should have ideas ready for presentation in July or August at the latest.  I have also asked that our City Attorney be invited to join the group drafting the formal documents.  We need fresh, independent eyes at the beginning of the process.

The bottom line is I support consolidation.  I’m not happy that Mill Creek and SNOCOM will be swallowed up, but it’s a compromise that will improve service to the residents of Mill Creek. There may be savings.

What we need now is a way to ensure the beast we are creating serves those paying the bills and not itself.

The monthly Mayor’s Corner column written by Mill Creek Mayor Pam Pruitt focuses on issues important to residents, as well as offering insight to what the City Council is up to. It reflects the personal views of the mayor and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the other members of the Mill Creek City Council.

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