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Thursday, November 30, 2023
Nov. 30, 2023

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Camas, Washougal officials mull fire deal expiration

Proposed regional fire authority plan gets closer look


The agreement that formed the joint Camas-Washougal Fire Department nearly a decade ago is set to expire at the end of the year.

Camas-Washougal city officials are trying to nail down an updated interlocal agreement that would keep the joint fire department whole and give city leaders time to work on a regional fire authority proposal and pitch that idea to voters in both cities.

“We were hoping to get a little further than we got, but we are where we are,” Camas Mayor Steve Hogan told Camas City Council members during Monday’s workshop.

Hogan said city leaders — including Hogan, Camas and Washougal city council members who sit on the Joint Policy Advisory Committee for the fire department, Washougal City Manager David Scott and Camas City Administrator Doug Quinn — are focusing on making the new interlocal agreement equitable and fair to citizens in both cities.

“We’re not trying to look back and fix history,” Hogan said. “We want to move forward and get to a destination that, at this point, looks like it might be a regional fire authority.”

Hogan said committee members are still trying to figure out financial impacts to Camas and Washougal according to different scenarios in the updated agreement.

When Camas-Washougal city officials put the original agreement together in 2012, they agreed to base the funding formula on three elements: the assessed value of structures in each city (50 percent), population (25 percent) and calls for service (25 percent). That funding formula came out to a roughly 60-40 financial split, with Camas paying more of the costs for the fire department and taking on an administrative role.

In June 2022, consultants from Tualatin, Ore.-based Merina + CO delivered the results of their deep dive into an alternative to the interlocal agreement that formed the joint fire department. Instead of working to correct gaps in the current agreement, Merina consultants said city officials should consider bringing a proposal for a regional fire authority to the voters.

At a Joint Policy Advisory Committee in March, a Merina consultant told Camas-Washougal leaders a regional fire authority would be “an independent entity with its own taxing authority” with a still-to-be-determined levy rate based on assessed property values throughout the Camas-Washougal region.

A cost-share analysis showed what each city might pay if the updated interlocal agreement was using a similar “levy rate” model based on all assessed property values.

“When you model … based on 100 percent taxable assessed value between the combined service areas, based on assessors’ data from 2022, (the funding formula would be) 69 percent for Camas and 31 percent for Washougal,” said Jordan Henderson, the consultant.

At the Camas City Council’s workshop Monday, Councilman John Nohr — the fire chief for Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue — said the creation of a regional fire authority would lay out an equitable and fair way of collecting fees from Camas and Washougal taxpayers.

Though some Camas officials have pointed out that Washougal pays less for its share of the fire department and often has a higher call volume for EMS services, Nohr said you can’t base a fire department’s funding formula on service calls.

Camas Councilman Tim Hein said he would like to see a breakdown of what it might cost for Camas to go it alone and run its own fire department again. Councilman Chaney, however, said he believes the two cities should not go their own way when it comes to fire/EMS services.

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