Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Should Hailey consolidate fire services?

Express Staff Writer

Elected officials in Hailey appear to be taking quite seriously the Nov. 7 rejection by city residents of a proposed $2.3 million fire station bond.

If the ballot had received the necessary 67 percent majority needed for approval, the bond would have paid for the construction of a 10,445-square-foot fire station in Hailey's Woodside neighborhood.

Instead, those marking "yes" on their ballots totaled 1,218, or 57 percent of the votes cast. Those marking "no" totaled 908 votes, or 43 percent.

At a short workshop held at the beginning of a Hailey City Council meeting Monday, Mayor Susan McBryant invited Hailey landowner Diane Barker to discuss alternative methods the city might consider for providing emergency services in the city.

Among the options discussed by Barker was the possibility that Hailey could contract for emergency fire and medical services.

McBryant greeted the idea with interest.

"My parents actually live in a community that contracts for services," McBryant said. "I'm very open to pursuing other options."

Barker stressed that options are plentiful.

The alternatives include:

- Do nothing. Under this option the city would maintain the current level of emergency services. While response times to places like the Woodside neighborhood would remain the same, Hailey's insurance rating might retrogress to a higher negative rating, Barker said.

- Build the fire station at Woodside as proposed in the November 2006 bond. Barker said the outcome of this option could be a better insurance rating, the same insurance rating or, possibly, the city could regress to a higher negative rating.

- Contract for services with another department. Barker said this could be the Wood River Fire Protection District, the Ketchum Fire District or another private contractor.

"That is being done all over the country right now," she said. "It's a better option for the entire community."

- Build the station at Woodside as proposed in the bond request and expand services by providing a full-time crew. This option would likely retain or improve the city's current fire rating and would also lead to better emergency response times, Barker said. Bringing the average response times to the Woodside neighborhood down from the current eight minutes to six minutes would be safer for firefighters and citizens themselves, she said.

At the end of the discussion on Monday, the City Council tentatively scheduled another workshop to discuss the various options sometime in March.

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