The following letter from Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett is in response to this letter by the presidents of the Bellevue, Kirkland, Northshore, Redmond and Woodinville/Bothell Fire Departments.
The Kirkland City Council’s only priority in reviewing the EMS levy is the health and safety of our citizens. The letter from the firefighter union presidents is inaccurate and not reflective of current discussions. The City of Kirkland is not requesting additional funding at this time and has not stopped the EMS levy from going to the ballot. In fact, Kirkland Council members and City officials have worked diligently for the past 14 months trying to reach an agreement with King County about Kirkland’s role in the regional EMS system. The King County Council is still several months away from any action to place the levy on the ballot in November. Kirkland is in productive discussions with the King County Council and we believe we are very close to a compromise that will allow unanimous support for the levy.
Kirkland is the only north end city with a population over 50,000 that does not have an ALS (paramedic) unit funded by the levy. Bellevue has four. Redmond and Shoreline each have three. One of Redmond’s units is stationed in Kirkland at EvergreenHealth Medical Center and nearly all its calls serve Kirkland residents. Having an ALS unit in your Fire Department creates better performance by all Fire Fighter/EMTs and better coordination between the EMTs and paramedics. The result is better outcomes for every emergency call in the City of Kirkland.
When the EMS levy planning began in early 2012, Kirkland made a simple request. Allow Kirkland to run the levy-funded ALS unit stationed in Kirkland and serve primarily our own residents. This would benefit the citizens of Kirkland at no additional cost to the levy. The City of Redmond and the King County Executive did not support our request. Kirkland then asked for language to be added to the EMS Strategic Plan outlining a “path” for Kirkland to become a paramedic provider by the next levy in 2020. Again, the request was denied. None of Kirkland’s subsequent suggestions were included in the EMS Task Force recommendations that were concluded in July 2012.
Kirkland proposed several creative alternatives to ALS provision to the Executive throughout the fall and winter of 2012 to reach a compromise. The Kirkland City Council laid out four key criteria that any Kirkland proposal had to meet. First, proposals could not raise the overall cost of the levy. Second, proposals could not impact any other city’s levy allocations or ALS service. Third, proposals could not impact the operations or levy allocations of King County’s EMS Division. And finally, proposals must demonstrate local value to Kirkland while improving the overall regional system.
These negotiations culminated in a meeting with the Executive on January 31, 2013. Unfortunately Kirkland’s proposals were not accepted and no counterproposals were made. To our disappointment, new language was put into the EMS Strategic Plan to specifically prohibit any new agencies from becoming ALS providers.
The State Legislature gave cities with populations over 50,000 approval authority over a countywide EMS levy for a reason. Cities give up their own ability to run an EMS levy when a countywide measure is placed on the ballot. As a new city of 81,000, Kirkland officials must now weigh the benefits of the regional system against the local value that would be provided if Kirkland ran its own levy and its own ALS system. As the 2013 EMS levy was developed, Kirkland agreed to remain within the regional framework. But a regional partnership must make every partner successful.
Fortunately the King County Council is being a good partner, thanks in large part to the leadership of King County Councilmembers Jane Hague, Kathy Lambert and Rod Dembowski. The EMS Strategic Plan is now at the King County Council for review and approval. As a result of new positive discussions, Kirkland has returned to its original interest. Once again Kirkland is only seeking is a path to becoming an ALS provider in 2020. Kirkland has suggested amendments to the Strategic Plan that call for a study of Kirkland becoming an ALS provider and removing the restrictions on new agencies providing paramedic service. These are modest and thoughtful requests. I would be happy to meet with the firefighter union leadership to update them on our most recent discussions with King County.
The Kirkland City Council places the health and safety of our citizens above all other priorities. We have a responsibility to ensure that any countywide EMS levy is also in the best interests of Kirkland citizens. We fulfill those responsibilities by being willing to ask difficult questions and challenge the status quo on behalf of our citizens. We believe we are close to reaching an agreement that will benefit both Kirkland and the region.
Sincerely, Kurt Triplett, Kirkland City Manager