Letter: Vote 'No' on the Fire Station/Truck Levy

City Councilman Mike Cero writes in a letter to the editor that the Fire Station and Truck Levy on the ballot this November should be used to send a message to the city on how it manages it finances.


Like you, I prefer a new South end firehouse to an old firehouse. Like you, I want new fire trucks and new fire equipment. But this levy is bigger than simply financing a new South end firehouse and a new fire truck.

This levy is about how the city prioritizes its tax receipts and, therefore, how it manages its budget. The Council/staff should prioritize its budget like many Islanders prioritize their household budgets. I think this levy is a mandate as to how the Council manages its finances, i.e., your money.

In 2003, a forward-thinking Council adopted the policy to finance fire trucks with a sinking fund. Until recently, city councils respected the wisdom of prioritizing fire trucks by annually contributing to this sinking fund. The sinking fund is no different from a 529 account that you may make monthly contributions to for the predictable college bills. Unfortunately, over the past couple of years, the Council chose to fund a list of discretionary products and services instead of prioritizing the fire truck sinking fund.

The levy vote coincidently happens as our last biennial budget closes and as we enter into the next biennial budget planning cycle. This levy will have huge budget implications if the levy fails. If the levy is approved, the Council and staff will continue its unsustainable budget practices. Practices of funding discretionary projects and services before projects and services that are of much higher priority, i.e., those projects and services that are necessary for the city to function.

Islanders are not immune to our very slow recovery. The average Mercer Island home sales price decreased 2.4 percent from 2011 to 2012. This levy makes the mis-prioritization of funds glaringly obvious. Be informed: if this levy passes, Islanders give tacit approval to develop the next budget in the same manner as past budgets. Discretionary projects and services first, then priority projects and services from what remains or claim taxes need raised.

The Council balanced its last biennial budget by raising taxes while funding and expanding discretionary projects and services. In reality, the Council has plenty of money to pay for fire trucks. There are hundreds of thousands of dollars in many discretionary funds.

In November 2011, the Council raised property taxes, utility connection charges, emergency medical service tax, Norcom tax and even created new taxes: technology tax, ambulance service tax and mileage reimbursement tax.

All while planning to hire a new communications coordinator and a new Sustainability Task Force coordinator. The city has plenty of money in its coffers: $656k in Sewer Lake Line Savings, $200k from a canceled water fountain project, $280k in the Arts Fund, $300k in the Revenue Stabilization Fund (different than the mandated contingency fund) and $500k in the Beautification Fund. This is in addition to the huge sales receipts we’ll receive from downtown construction projects such as the Aviara Apartments, followed by The Mercer (Phase II) Apartments, followed by the Legacy Apartments.

This levy is not about firehouses and fire trucks. The city has plenty of money to pay for fire trucks. This levy is about how the city prioritizes your tax dollars. A no vote is a vote for budget reform — a budget we will adopt Nov. 19, 2012, that will shape policy until December 2014.


Mike Cero

Thomas Imrich October 01, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Excellent analysis. Excellent letter. Thank you Councilman Cero, for speaking the "no spin" truth, particularly as seen by many many very long time Island residents.
Kendall Watson October 01, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Thanks Tom. Keep an eye out for a letter from former Mercer Island Mayor Jim Pearman, who is a chair of the 'Yes' campaign on the Fire Station and Truck levy. You might recall that the former mayor's life was saved by the Medic One system, starting with the care he got from MIFD EMTs who stabilized him after he had a heart attack while driving on I-90 (He managed to pull into Station 91 and called for help from there before he passed out).
Thomas Imrich October 02, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Excellent points Kendall. We're all appreciative that Medic One was able to help our former Mayor. However, a NO VOTE on the Fire Station can HELP improve emergency capability, it doesn't degrade it. That's because a NO VOTE will force a review of "real" requirements, to actually IMPROVE capability, and not just build a pretty building. The new truck could or should have been bought with other tax money, that we already paid, and is being wasted.
Robert T. Brown October 02, 2012 at 05:55 AM
Especially with a school bond that may come anywhere from February to November of 2013, Mercer Island resident's can't be able to pay for everything at once. This levy, a school bond, transportation tax, etc. it all adds up. I also remember the fire chief saying at one meeting (it may be the May 21st meeting) that they can make do with what they have and still do an exemplary job.
Susan Lund October 02, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Thanks for sharing this, Kendall. I'm grateful to Councilman Cero for provided the backstory on this levy. Certainly, fire protection is something we all take seriously, and it's something our community happily supports. Knowing that this is a respected priority of the voters, the Council is not respecting our resources in the same way as the school district did with the levy we slapped down. Right on for Mike Cero to get the word out. I'm a NO vote, too.
Accountable October 03, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Right on Mike. MI has plenty of money for artificial turf, it's evident to me that we don't need a fire truck levy.
Mercer Islander! October 03, 2012 at 02:25 AM
As someone who has had the services of the EMTs and the fire station folks, I heartily support this.
Anne Munroe October 03, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Which members of the City Council are up for reelection next year? If I recall, Dan Grausz has said he is not going to run again. What's the status on the others?
Thomas Imrich October 03, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Of course, we ALL support EMT, better MI emergency preparedness, and our terrific Fire Services!!!! But this "Demolish and rebuild" Levy is a waste of our tax money. It primarily gets us a more attractive building, and does little or NOTHING to improve "real" emergency services capability. It just wastes tax money for an unnecessary "demolish and rebuild", that could be done better and less expensively in other less wasteful ways. The "new truck" issue is a "red herring". We already gave them the money for the truck, that they're wasting on other low priority uses, that would never pass muster in a vote. It is long past time to send our Council a message, and force a re-plan. VOTE NO
Kendall Watson October 03, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I believe Mike Grady, Tana Senn's seat (she was appointed after former Mayor Jim Pearman stepped down) and Dan Grausz's seat are all up for election in 2013.
Kendall Watson October 03, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Here's a snippet of what Chief Tubbs had to say about this in an interview in Oct., 2010: "Well, first of all it was designed as a volunteer fire station. It was not designed for the department's current mission, which full-time and requiring things like sleeping quarters. The structure is also made from unreinforced masonry block, which could collapse in an earthquake. The glue "lam" beams over the apparatus, supporting the roof, is installed upside down … In 1991, the city hired a consultant to do a programatic and structural analysis. they concluded the stations didn't meet our needs. In 1999 we opened the doors to Station 91. Gordy Edberg was the mayor then. But Station 92 left as it was. At some point it would reach the end of life span. In 1980, we began staffing Station 92 for full-time use. In 1984 dorms were added there. We went back to look at station again in 2009. Last year we brought TCA Consultants in to do another assessment. Is that location the wrong location for that station? and secondly what are the limitations of that site and how would that affect the new facility? ... The more time that goes by, I think the greater the risk that, as the building ages I'm increasingly concerned about the impacts from a seismic event. What's the risk of a seismic event? I don't know the answer." For the compete interview, go to: http://patch.com/A-R1T
Mercer Islander! October 04, 2012 at 12:32 AM
As far as I can tell, the NO folks here seem to know more than the professionals. That is impressive.
Mercer Islander! October 04, 2012 at 12:38 AM
And by professionals, I mean Fire Fighters, EMTs, etc.
Francesca Martinnal October 04, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Vote yes. Anybody who doesn't like what 6 out of 7 councilmembers support is out of the mainstream.
Robert T. Brown October 04, 2012 at 04:53 AM
I disagree. Mike Cero did not support the failed school's bond, but all the other council members did. Four out of five school board director's voted for it, but the public agreed with the one dissenting opinion. The school bond had items that should have been separate, like this one, and also revolved around the idea of demolishing and rebuilding what already exists. Unless, of course, you don't mean "mainstream" as in the popular opinion.
Ira B. Appelman October 04, 2012 at 03:17 PM
The school bond issue was supported by ALMOST every local politician you can name along with both candidates for WA Governor (!!!), along with a record 1400 who allowed themselves to be listed as supporters! Nevertheless, Islanders THOUGHT FOR THEMSELVES and rejected the measure by a HUGE margin (~ 41% for, 59% against). What's the purpose of having a democracy if citizens don't think for themselves?
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA October 05, 2012 at 12:37 AM
. Earlier- this highly experienced architect got word of a proposal to completely tear down the simple, rather nicely designed SouthEnd FireStation which has served us well all these years. This inspired me to post/repost this PatchBlog: http://mercerisland.patch.com/blog_posts/south-end-fire-station-should-be-remodeled-enlarged-not-demolished#photo-10749324
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA October 05, 2012 at 05:05 AM
. Put me down as an ardent co-signer on Tom Imrich's "VOTE NO" above. Jerry
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA October 05, 2012 at 02:28 PM
a "Demolish and rebuild" Levy- that's what it is. Vote NO. J-
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA October 05, 2012 at 08:10 PM
. Why "Demolish and rebuild" the SouthEnd Firestation? Improve the existing viable structure says this architect. Jerry-
Kendall Watson October 05, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Hi all, just got a letter from Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz in support of the Prop. 1 Fire Station and Truck Levy. While a strong supporter of the station replacement, you might also recall that he sought to slim down the new station, going so far as to suggest the elimination of a planned foyer and a meeting room to reduce cost. He also takes issue with some of Councilman Cero's positions and history of funding the fire trucks. In other words, an interesting counter point and I'm looking forward to the responses in the comments as well.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA October 05, 2012 at 11:56 PM
K- Does the Grausz letter favor the "TearDown" idea? J-
Kendall Watson October 06, 2012 at 12:00 AM
By this I assume you are asking if he's taking a position on "renovating" rather than "demolish and rebuild". He is not. FYI, Mayor Bruce Bassett mentioned at Rotary on Tuesday that a renovation would be more expensive than the demolish and rebuild.
Kendall Watson October 06, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Here it is: http://patch.com/A-yzfV
Just the Facts October 06, 2012 at 05:57 AM
"No spin" truth doesn't jibe with Councilmember Grausz' "no spin" truth in the letter he published. I want to know who is telling the truth! How do you know Cero is (as suggested by your "no spin" truth comment)?
Voice of reason October 11, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Mr. Appleman's claim that "The school bond issue was supported by ALMOST every local politician you can name " got me checking to see about this. It certainly had a lot of support, but I checked the list (http://mischoolsyes.org/home/endorsements/) and found many relatively recent former school board presidents (e.g. Pottmeyer, Kaplan, Paull) not on the endorsement list -- along with a number of recent former mayors (Pearman, Cairns, Merkle). It seems that the school bond had a fair number of recently active political leaders who didn't support it notwithstanding the large number that did. I am wondering if the same is true for the Fire station issue?
Ira B. Appelman October 11, 2012 at 10:30 PM
My "claim" is absolutely correct and was in response to the comment that if you don't follow 6 out of 7 councilmembers, you are "out of the mainstream." It turns out that the politicians were out of the mainstream. In the school bond issue, virtually all the local politicians were for it including our state senator and both state representatives, our king county executive and deputy executive, our king county councilmember, 6 of 7 councilmembers, and 4 of 5 school board directors, along with our congressional representative and both WA governor candidates. I didn't mention former officials, but there were 13 of those. We don't have a list yet for the fire station levy.


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