Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fire services discussion changes course

Bellevue leaders eye consolidation of 3 departments

Express Staff Writer

Shaun Mahoney

The Bellevue City Council took a step sideways in considering a contract for fire protection services during its meeting on Thursday, Nov. 8.

Whereas the discussion of this issue at the two previous meetings centered on a potential contract with the Hailey Fire Department, council members agreed that the long-term consolidation of the three south valley departments, which also include Wood River Fire & Rescue, is paramount.

"We shouldn't continue the conversation with Hailey if they're not willing to talk to Wood River. This has to be in the contract," Councilman Shaun Mahoney said.

Mahoney contended that previous personality conflicts, which have been perceived as the reason for preventing such a consolidation in the past, have to be put aside for the greater good.

"A lot of people's feelings might get hurt, but this has to happen," he said.

Mahoney said the city had received letters from both Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant and Wood River Fire & Rescue promoting consolidation. While he didn't discuss the details or cost of potential contracts, he said the city needs to consider capital benefits, such as buildings, when planning for the future.

Councilman Steve Fairbrother added that the potential to receive ambulance and paramedic services if Wood River manned its Station 3, at the southern border of Bellevue on state Highway 75, would be a huge benefit to the city. He also said that the current manner of negotiating, between the two department's chiefs and other staff members, has to change since it has so far proved frustrating and unfruitful.

"The elected officials need to sit down with other elected officials, and this might piss staff off," Fairbrother said. "But if we continue the way we are, we'll just keep going in circles."

Councilman Chris Koch agreed with Fairbrother that Bellevue could serve as a means for bringing all three entities to the same table.

"We could be the bridge between Wood River and Hailey," Koch said.

However, Bellevue Fire Chief Greg Beaver cautioned that a contract with Wood River could lead to higher taxes for Bellevue residents, since the state won't allow the city to pay less than what county taxpayers pay for Wood River's service. Beaver added that Bellevue could forfeit all of its current assets, such as personnel equipment and vehicles, to Wood River if a contract between the two were cancelled.

While council members agreed that they need to sit down with their counterparts in Hailey and with the Wood River Fire commissioners, no schedule was set for the meetings.

In other Bellevue news:

· Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Brownfields Manager Aaron Scheff spoke to the council about a grant program that would assess any possible contamination in the Howard Preserve from two sites that were once used as an unauthorized refuse dump. Scheff said that the program would entail no cost to the city and would find the location of the "wildcat dump," evaluate any risk and plan future actions if needed. Scheff said he had walked around the site and didn't anticipate finding any significant problems. Council members agreed to go ahead with the grant application, which is being handled by Planning and Zoning Commissioner and Wood River Land Trust Project Coordinator Kathryn Goldman and Councilwoman Tammy Eaton.

· City Attorney Jim Phillips said he's still working on the documents for acquisition of 4.3 acres on which the wastewater treatment facility is located from property owner Dan Brown. The city would give 1.5 acres in exchange and pay approximately $65,000 per acre for the remainder. Phillips estimated the cost to be around $185,000, which would be covered by a state grant. A required public hearing on the exchange was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 13.

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