Fire services request for proposals is still on councilmembers’ minds

Amendment to fund RFP is voted down again at Nov. 17 meeting.

A discussion heated up again at the Mercer Island City Council meeting on Nov. 17 regarding the fire services request for proposals (RFP) that was defeated earlier this month.

The RFP — which was twice voted down by 4-3 councilmember counts on Nov. 2 and removed from the city’s 2021-2022 biennial budget — was part of a fire services study that focused on the possibility of seeking cost savings and operational efficiencies by contracting out fire services to a third party. The city’s final budget adoption is set for Dec. 1.

On Nov. 17, councilmember Lisa Anderl moved to allocate $50,000 in 2021 to a fire RFP from the additional revenues that would be collected with the full 1 percent property tax increase allowed by law that was being requested in Resolution 1587. The amendment to fund the fire RFP again failed, 4-3, as did the 1 percent increase, which needed a supermajority of 5-2 in favor, but went 4-3 in favor. Council ended up passing a 0.6 percent property tax increase, 4-3.

The fire RFP votes were identical to the last ones, with Mayor Benson Wong, Deputy Mayor Wendy Weiker and councilmembers David Rosenbaum and Craig Reynolds voting no, and Anderl, Jake Jacobson and Salim Nice voting yes. At the Nov. 2 meeting, the RFP was noted as $80,000 support for the final budget.

City Manager Jessi Bon said she consulted with city attorney Bio Park and they believed Anderl’s Nov. 17 motion was distinct enough to be allowable for the rules of procedure.

Anderl noted that she was trying to be fiscally conservative with the $50,000 proposal after receiving RFP feedback from some community members. Anderl added that she’s taking a long-term view of the fire services situation.

Reynolds commended Anderl for her long-term view — which he normally takes — and said: “I feel like we’ve done enough work on this to recognize that there is no material long-term savings to be found.”

Nice weighed in on the fire RFP: “I do think that the long view — which, Craig, you normally take — is an important perspective to look at now as the city re-positions itself kind of post-COVID, post the decline in a recovery phase and a startup phase to look at how fire services can really thoroughly be vetted out through this instance. So I would support it for that reason.”

Reynolds added that he’d like to see the city be able to bring back some of the services that have been cut due to COVID.

Weiker felt that council resolved the fire RFP issue on principle during its last meeting.

“I think we heard from our residents loud and clear that this was not an RFP that they were interested in pursuing, especially at this time during a pandemic when our city is facing significant budget shortfalls,” she said.

At council’s Oct. 6 meeting, independent consultant Emily Moon, who partnered with Matrix Consulting Group on the fire services study, said, “Your department is producing well according to those community standards,” regarding quality and level of service and productivity.