Fire Merger Possible If Boards Approve

Chiefs: Agreement will improve both budgets and service

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A joint powers agreement could cut fire department costs and improve service, fire chiefs from four Rim Country departments have concluded.

Such an agreement could save perhaps $500,000 on overhead costs and better coordinate services, but leave the five departments under local control, according to the plan.

The Hellsgate Fire Department will host an informational session on the idea Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at its Star Valley station during a regularly scheduled board meeting.

Battalion Chief Dave Bathke will detail how a joint power agreement (JPA) might help Hellsgate, Pine-Strawberry, Houston Mesa, Christopher-Kohl’s and possibly Payson Fire Departments save money and improve service.

The Payson Fire Department pulled out of the discussions late last year because Fire Chief Marty deMasi had retired and the town hasn’t hired a replacement.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans has said Payson supports a closer relationship with the other smaller, mostly volunteer departments, but believes the leadership on the issue should come from the other fire departments.

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Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch

JPAs have been used throughout the country since the 1960s, including in Florida and California, but rarely in Rim Country.

The JPA allows two or more public bodies to consolidate to save money, according to a report on the Federal Emergency Manage­ment Agency’s Web site.

The groups can either manage the combined service or establish a central fire board in which a member from each district would be appointed.

This can help reduce fragmentation and improve service delivery.

Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch said the fire department could save between $250,000 and $500,000.

Under the proposed JPA, one chief would manage the departments, but existing fire boards would still operate. The individual districts would also still gather taxes from their areas, but under the JPA, they could share resources.

Hatch said the drop in property-tax-based revenues at all fire departments had made cost cutting crucial. He said it doesn’t make sense to have so many fire departments in Rim Country.

The chiefs of the small departments have worked on the agreement for two years. After running risk analysis, the chiefs want to move forward with their plan.

They are presenting it to Hellsgate’s board first and will then take it around to the other boards who will ultimately decide if they want to go ahead with a JPA.

“(The fire chiefs) agree that (a JPA) should be done,” Hatch said.

Comments

Teel McClanahan 6 months, 3 weeks ago

As a taxpayer in Pine I see little or no benefit to the proposed merger and certainly none that would justify our fire tax money being pulled from the Pine department to be distributed to others. How much personnel and equipment that we pay for would be taken away leaving us with the same tax bill but less service?

Our fire department started with one small used forest service engine and a few volunteers and it has taken us many years and tax dollars to build up our building & equipment to its current level. We have paid for many hours of training to have the excellent crews that man our stations. I am sure I am not the only supporter of the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department that will demand that our continuing investment remain at our service. Not dispersed around all of northern Gila county.

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