Washougal to buy ECFR fire station

East County Fire & Rescue chief says sale a ‘win-win’ for fire district, city

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East County Fire and Rescue (ECFR) has agreed to sell Station 95, at 211 39th St., Washougal, to the city of Washougal. "For the past few years, we always thought that we should try to sell the station because it's so far into the city, and the fire district is the rural area above (the city)," ECFR Fire Chief Mike Carnes said. "That station doesn't fit into our operational needs for the future."

The East County Fire and Rescue (ECFR) fire district has agreed to sell one of its five stations to the city of Washougal.

Washougal City Council members voted to approve the execution of a purchase agreement of $335,000 for the Station 95 building at their Oct. 14 meeting.

Washougal City Manager David Scott said the 5,215-square-foot facility, located at 211 39th St., in Washougal, will be primarily used for office space and storage.

“We’re squeezed at the police station. We’re squeezed at city hall and we’re squeezed at our public works operations facilities — all of our facilities, basically,” Scott said. “We will be moving some folks around, and our team is trying to figure out what the optimal reconfiguration will be. It will be a great enhancement. The upside is that (the building) provides additional space. The downside is it’s not contiguous to our other facilities. But until we can consolidate on our city hall campus, this is a good alternative for us.”

Scott said the city could even use the building as a fire station at some point in the future.

“It was built as a fire station,” he said. “It’s adaptable for other city functions, and that’s our intent right now, but it certainly gives us a nice option to incorporate into the fire portfolio at some point. That will probably be necessary, but exactly when is the question. It’s good to have options.”

The building has three vehicle bays, living quarters, a meeting room, office space, a kitchen and a bathroom.

The city originally approached ECFR about purchasing a small portion of the station’s parking lot, which the city needs for its upcoming road improvement project at the intersection of 39th Street and Evergreen Way.

“As those conversations unfolded, questions were raised around (the possibility) of the city purchasing the whole property,” Scott said. “As the leadership team explored that possibility, we thought that actually might be a good option. It’s a very adaptable building.”

ECFR, which covers rural areas north of Camas and Washougal, moved its primary east Clark County response units from Station 95 to Station 94 on Mount Norway in 2006.

Since then, Station 95 has been pretty much deserted.

“As the city continues to annex out, our response area is pushed further out,” ECFR Fire Chief Mike Carnes said of ECFR’s coverage north of Washougal. “Every time that happens, that station gets farther away from our response area. It just didn’t make sense for us to continue to hang on to it. It’s not a staffed station — basically it’s a storage area for apparatus. The station itself and the living quarters are empty.”

ECFR had been attempting to sell the unstaffed building for several years, Carnes said.

Carnes said selling the building to the city will save ECFR about $10,000 a year in utility costs.

“There was still a service charge for water and sewer, even though we’re not using those things,” Carnes said. “We had to pay to keep the fire alarm managed. We had to turn on the heat in the winter to keep the pipes from freezing. We were just at the point where we didn’t want to be burdened with those costs.”

Scott said the city will dip into various funds to pay for the building.

“We will probably use some of our general fund reserves, and we’ll see how much we have to use based on what the 2019 budget does,” Scott said. “We may be able to accommodate the price within the existing overall appropriation for the 2019 general fund, but we may need to do a supplemental budget later in the year. We’ll figure that out as the year goes on. There may also be a little cost allocation to other funds, depending upon the final decisions of who will occupy the space.”

Carnes said the ECFR board of directors will decide how to use the money from the sale.

“We could put it into our reserve fund, or use it for a bond payment or something like that,” he said. “I can’t speak for the board, but we are looking at some capital improvements on our other four existing stations that are going to be needed here in the next few years — some parking lot issues, some building issues. The board will make all those decisions, but I think that’s in the foreseeable future.”

Carnes said that because the building is basically empty now, the sale won’t affect ECFR operations.

“If there was going to be any affect on how we operated, we probably wouldn’t be selling it,” he said. “It just doesn’t fit into our future operational set-up. I don’t see (our coverage area) ever coming back down the hill. This works well for the city because it gets a fairly decent building at a fairly decent price. It works out for us because we don’t have a need for that building. It’s a win-win.”

ECFR’s overall financial situation has improved greatly since August, when local voters approved the fire district’s levy lid lift, which restored levy collection rates to the originally approved $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value (APV) rate.

“Things are looking better,” Carnes said. “We always try to staff the station on the west side of the district by the airport and the one on the east by Mount Norway. Without that lift, we’d be forced to shut down one of those stations on a regular basis. Our big operational push is to keep those stations open 365 days a year, and the lid lift allows us to keep those stations staffed.”