Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hailey wants more from fire study

Consultants sent back to drawing board

Express Staff Writer

Consultants have reported twice in the last two months on a $48,000 study recommending consolidation of fire departments in the south valley, but Hailey officials are still waiting for a cost analysis of recommended scenarios before moving forward.

"We've asked for this for a long time," said Councilman Fritz Haemmerle at a City Council meeting Monday. "I criticize this study. It doesn't tell us what we want to know."

"We need a bottom line," added Mayor Rick Davis.

"I still can't tell a taxpayer if costs will go up, down or stay the same," said Hailey Councilwoman Carol Brown.

After months of interviews, inventories and studies, Emergency Services Consulting International presented the results of a "Cooperative Efforts Feasibility Study" in January to Hailey, Bellevue and Wood River Fire & Rescue fire departments.

The 370-page document includes several scenarios under which the three entities could merge operations, and about 30 options for them to work together without becoming consolidated. But Hailey and Bellevue officials criticized the study for not including municipal capital improvement needs in the recommended scenarios.

Hailey City Administrator Heather Dawson said the study "whitewashed" the differences among the three fire-fighting agencies by assuming all of them had the same capital needs. She said that if Hailey decides not to consolidate, its development impact fees could pay for part of the cost of a new fire station and fire trucks. The council agreed that more information is needed before the city makes a move.

"It's a lot of reading with no numbers," said Councilwoman Martha Burke.

Dawson said tables in the document indicate that increased efficiencies could result from some forms of consolidation and lead to less-costly fire-fighting operations.

"How jurisdictions apply these savings to capital needs will need to be addressed," she said.

Dawson was instructed Monday to seek financial information specific to Hailey from the consultants prior to a Friday, March 18, steering committee meeting, at which representatives from Hailey, Bellevue and Wood River Fire & Rescue will be present.

The 30 opportunities for the three fire departments to work cooperatively, even if the consolidation recommendations are not followed, include developing shared and uniform public fire-safety programs, training manuals, apparatus purchases, fees for service and strategic plans.

Councilman Don Keirn said the city should not move forward with any options unless they result in the current level of service or better, at current costs or less.

Keirn said the city should explore some of the lesser options in any case.

"If we can't do those, we could never consolidate," he said.

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