Fire Districts Go From Name-Calling To Negotiations

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Although county manager John Nelson could not attend Wednesday night's workshop between the Beaver Valley Volunteer Fire District board and the Houston Mesa Volunteer Fire District board, community turnout was high.

The Beaver Valley fire station was packed with those concerned about which district would provide fire and paramedic services over the coming months.

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Concerned residents of Beaver Valley packed the fire station to listen to contract negotiations between the Houston Mesa Volunteer Fire Department and the Beaver Valley Volunteer Fire Department.

Larry Martin, chairman of the Beaver Valley Volunteer Fire District Board, opened the meeting with a request that both parties stick to relevant issues and avoid going off on the tangents that previously led to hostility and frustration between the sides.

"Let's get right down to the workshop of agreement," Martin said.

Following the Beaver Valley board's declaration to the Houston Mesa Fire District that it wants an independent fire district rather than continuing service by the Houston Mesa department, and had appointed Duke Arrington as the new fire chief, questions of Beaver Valley's ability to field an effective fire department arose.

Realizing that budget constraints would make it nearly impossible to have a fire department up and running by the end of the current contract with Houston Mesa, members of the Beaver Valley board sought to negotiate a reduced cost for Houston Mesa's services in an effort to raise funds for expenditures necessary for a fully-functioning fire district.

Negotiations regarding just how much Beaver Valley should pay for services have been at an impasse, with Houston Mesa's board chairman Sheelah Golliglee calling Beaver Valley's proposed payment of $1,100 per month "unrealistic" given the costs associated with medical and fire emergencies.

Wednesday night's workshop took on a more subdued tone than previous meetings, with what appeared to be a genuine effort from both sides to deal with pertinent issues and reach a consensus.

Houston Mesa chief Frank Hansen and administrative secretary Lorna Hansen prepared a preliminary proposal for contract service to Beaver Valley which outlined the responsibilities and obligations of each district going forward. This provided a starting point for discussion.

Since the Beaver Valley board wants to pay less than half the money it paid Houston Mesa last year, Golliglee suggested it take on certain expenses that Houston Mesa had previously paid, such as hiring and training of volunteers, worker's compensation, insurance and vehicle maintenance.

This appeared to be an acceptable option for Arrington and the board, but questions arose about the prudence of having neighboring departments that are not trained in a uniformed manner.

Arrington also asked Chief Hansen if Houston Mesa's guidelines permitted them to take volunteers outside their district. All five of the residents of Beaver Valley who are on the Houston Mesa roster have decided to stay with that department, rather than joining Beaver Valley, including paramedic Tim Lynch.

"Yes," Hansen stated. "The board can decide whether to take volunteers from other districts."

Still stating her belief that a combined department is more advantageous to everyone, Golliglee reminded Martin that Houston Mesa had in its current budget the purchase of a new fast-attack fire engine to be housed in Beaver Valley. This purchase would only be possible if it were a joint venture.

Martin made no indications that he would still consider permanently remaining a combined district.

"Maybe we don't need a fast-attack engine here," Martin responded.

Golliglee and Hansen agreed to further research any possible legal ramifications of a quasi-combined district.

Although both districts still have much to resolve, the atmosphere was composed and the presence of a sheriff's deputy helped to subdue the volatility visited upon the small community.

A condition of the workshop was that the public was not permitted to speak, which also affected the dynamic of the workshop.

Both sides agreed to take the revised proposal and present it to their separate boards before the next workshop, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5 in Beaver Valley. County manager John Nelson is expected to attend, Golliglee said.

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