The Camas City Council is considering hiring a public relations firm to help the Camas-Washougal Fire Department work on messaging and public education ahead of two funding requests that could be placed before voters this year.
If Camas approves the $11,666-per-month contract with Snohomish-based Liz Loomis Public Affairs, it would kick-start the process of asking Camas-Washougal voters to approve a capital bond to replace failing fire stations and worn-out fire apparatus. That vote could occur in August, followed in November by emergency medical services levy renewal requests.
Loomis specializes in providing strategic communications to taxpayer-funded entities working on bond and levy projects and has helped several local fire departments refine their bond and levy messaging.
“This is specifically for public affairs support — for messaging, strategy, production of materials, and so forth,” Jeff Swanson, Camas’ interim city administrator, told city council members at a Jan. 3 workshop.
“As you’re aware, from multiple conversations we’ve had … we have two fire stations that need to be replaced and a capital facilities plan that indicates they should be replaced in the next year or two,” Swanson said. “We are a little behind the eight ball. We should already be proceeding with construction.”
Studies have also shown the fire department has some critical apparatus needs. “All five (fire engines) have been identified as needing to be replaced or placed in back-up status,” Swanson said.
The department has one fire engine on order, which is expected to be delivered in 2024, Swanson said. It takes about 36 months to take delivery of a fire engine after it is ordered.
To pay for the fire station and fire engine replacements, city and fire officials have determined they likely will need to ask voters to approve a capital bond.
Loomis has suggested that Camas and Washougal run the capital facilities bond in both cities at the same time and also ask voters to approve EMS levy renewals simultaneously to reinforce that the fire department provides fire and emergency medical services to residents in both cities, across one service district.
Under the terms of the nearly decade-old interlocal agreement, professional services contracts like the one proposed with Liz Loomis Public Affairs must be approved by the city of Camas, with the city of Washougal agreeing to reimburse Camas for 40 percent of the costs.
Washougal’s city manager, David Scott, was on hand during the Camas workshop.
“We know voted debt will be necessary to replace the department’s fire stations and apparatus … and we adopted same fire impact fees as (the city of Camas),” Scott said. “It is our understanding that we’re looking for some expert assistance in clarifying messaging … and we are prepared to move forward.”
“We haven’t passed something like this in Washougal for 20 years, since we passed a bond for the police station. We’re really looking for assistance,” Scott said, adding that Washougal officials are “fully prepared to work together” with Camas to fund the replacement of the two fire stations and the four fire engines, “and get (the) EMS levies passed so we can continue to have a solid partnership.”
After several council members asked for more information, Camas Mayor Steve Hogan suggested the council take the issue up again today.