Camas considers fire facilities plan, impact fees

Report: $35M to address C-W fire station, equipment needs over next decade

Camas officials are one step closer to approving a Camas-Washougal Fire Department capital facilities plan showing the fire department will require roughly $35 million worth of fire station and apparatus improvements and replacements over the next decade.

Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal Ron Schumacher provided some background on the plan this week.

“In 2021, Camas City Council authorized the Camas-Washougal Fire Department to contract with Mackenzie to develop a Capital Facilities Plan,” Schumacher stated in his staff report for the public hearing. “This plan both evaluates the current condition of department facilities and establishes a framework for the development and maintenance of department facilities. Additionally, a robust Capital Facilities Plan is legally required to disburse previously collected fire impact fees.”

Schumacher added on Monday that the fire department’s apparatus replacements depend on being able to access those fire impact fees, which hinge on the approval of a capital facilities plan.

“Our fire department apparatus is failing,” Schumacher said at the start of the public hearing on Monday. “With the adoption of the (capital facilities plan), fire impact fees would become available to replace our aging fleet.”

Consultants from Mackenzie outlined the fire department’s capital needs during the Camas City Council’s earlier workshop on Monday.

The consultants’ report shows the joint Camas-Washougal Fire Department will need to replace its headquarters — fire station 41 located next to Camas City Hall in downtown Camas — and the Washougal-based fire station 43 within the next three years; build a new satellite station in northeast Camas in five to nine years; replace four fire engines, one ladder truck and two brush rigs; and replace $200,000 worth of rescue tools to keep up with the needs of a growing city.

The fire department is dealing with aging infrastructure, including a headquarters that has “no future growth opportunities” and does not meet seismic code for an essential facility or current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements; three of four frontline fire engines that are at the end of their normal lifespan; and a fire station in Washougal that also does not meet seismic or ADA codes and, like the headquarters in downtown Camas, “has no future growth opportunities.”

Mackenzie consultants presented a similar report to the Camas City Council in October 2021. On Monday, the consultants recommended Camas officials consider replacing the fire department’s headquarters and Washougal station in two to three years; approve “minor improvements” to the 21-year-old fire station 42 in northwest Camas within the next decade; and build a satellite fire station north of Lacamas Lake within the next nine years to help accommodate the city’s developing North Shore area.

“Washougal will need one new station if not two before 2030,” Cathy Bowman, of Mackenzie, said Monday.

The consultants said the city will need roughly 1 acre of land to build a new, 19,400-square-foot fire department headquarters, which will house the department’s administration, fire marshal’s office, firefighters and the vehicles and gear associated with a fully operational fire station. They estimate the cost of the new headquarters will be between $12.6 million and $13.9 million.

The satellite stations, including a replacement for the Washougal-based fire station 43, should be around 13,000 square feet and will likely cost $8.5 million to $9.4 million each, the consultants said.

During the Council’s Monday evening workshop, Councilman Tim Hein asked the Mackenzie consultants why city officials should consider replacing four fire engines when only around 12 percent of the fire department’s calls are fire-related.

“It’s a very expensive vehicle for a non-fire service (call). It seems like we could utilize a less costly (vehicle),” Hein said. “It seems like a really expensive way to address it.”

Schumacher and the city’s interim fire chief, Cliff Free, explained that, not only are the larger fire engines able to carry equipment like the “jaws of life” that help extricate people from crashed vehicles during calls to traffic accidents, but that fire crews would be limited if they received a fire call after responding to a medical call with a smaller non-fire vehicle.

“When a fire engine responds to (a medical call) with an ambulance, they are in a constant state to respond to a fire … so we have 24-7 ability to respond to a fire,” Free said.

Councilwoman Shannon Roberts asked about the fire engines deemed “at the end of their normal lifespan” during the Monday evening workshop.

“Just because it has high mileage, it’s not necessarily a bad thing unless it’s having mechanical issues,” Roberts said.

Schumacher said the fire engines had more issues than just high mileage, and that consultants found the engines were frequently in need of repair.

Fire impact fees could help replace aging fire stations, equipment

The city council also considered a presentation by FCS Group project manager Martin Chaw during the Council’s Monday evening workshop.

Camas has not increased its fire impact fees — fees that cities impose on new development as a condition for development approval to help pay for additional demands on city services and public facilities — in nearly 20 years.

On Monday, Chaw showed how Camas and Washougal might recoup some of the costs associated with replacing aging fire stations and fire equipment through updated fire index fees.

The city of Camas’ current fire impact fee structure charges 20 cents per square foot for new residential developments and 40 cents per square foot for new, non-residential developments.

“It has been a while since the city has updated these fees,” Chaw said. Had Camas officials “indexed” the fees to account for increased costs and inflation, the city’s fire impact fees would now be 30 cents per square foot for residential developments and 61 cents per square foot for non-residential developments, Chaw said.

Compared to other cities in the region and state with no bonds for financing fire department capital facilities needs, Camas’ current fire impact fee structure is near the bottom. For instance, while the developer would pay $506 in fire impact fees for every 2,500-square-foot single-family residence they built in Camas, developers in other areas of Washington pay far more — $830 in Renton, $2,213 in Issaquah and $2,311 in Shoreline, for example. In Washougal, fire impact fees for a new, 2,500-square-foot single-family home currently cost developers $402.

Of the city’s estimated $35.1 million in fire capital facilities needs, about $22.7 million can be connected to future growth, Chaw said.

The consultant showed a chart with several options for updated fire impact fees in Camas that could impose larger impact fees on new developments like assisted living facilities that come with a greater need for fire and medical services.

If the city were to increase fire impact fees to help pay for facilities needs related to population growth and new developments — without going to voters for bonds to help replace aging fire stations — the city would likely need to increase its fire impact fees to 68 cents per square foot (PSF) for single-family residences, 37 cents PSF for multi-family developments, 15 cents PSF for industrial developments, $41.74 PSF for assisted living facilities and 81 cents PSF for medical facilities.

In other scenarios, the consultants show that lumping some of the development types together would help spread out some of those costs – for instance, lumping the industrial, commercial, assisted living and medical developments into one category would mean each of those developments would pay 88 cents PSF.

The city council will discuss updating the fire impact fees once it has gone through the review and approval process for updating the fire department’s fire capital facilities plan.

“I’ll come back and review with you the options we’ve presented and facilitate approval of a preferred option,” Chaw said Monday.