Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bellevue finalizes new fire station

Acquisition does not rule out consolidation

Express Staff Writer

From left, Jamie Hoover, Chief Greg Beaver, Sky Vollmer, Amberle Behr and Assistant Chief Trent Shoemaker stand in front of Bellevue’s new fire station building. Express photo by Roland Lane

The Bellevue Fire Department will soon get a new and bigger home, thanks to a land swap and $50,000 cash exchange authorized by the Bellevue City Council on Thursday.

A dilapidated building next to City Hall that the city has leased for $1 per year for many years will be abandoned in favor of a larger structure at 517 N. Second St.

The 33,000-square-foot building will be acquired in exchange for $50,000 of city funds and two parcels of city-owned property, a house at 710 Cedar St. and a 4,000-square-foot lot at 517 N. Second St.

The Main Street lot is home to a cell tower that brings in about $12,000 in lease revenue each year to the city. The Cedar Street house was given to the city in lieu of projected development impacts associated with Strahorn Ranch subdivision.

"We will be one step closer to consolidation and provide better coverage for the city than from a station two to three miles away," said Mayor Chris Koch before the council voted unanimously to support the move.

Koch was responding to comments from Bellevue resident Tom Blanchard and others, who said the city should instead reconsider consolidating with Wood River Fire & Rescue, which has a new fire station just south of the city limits.

Blanchard described the new station as an "extravagant expense" that would not improve fire-fighting services in the city, and cost about $1 million over the next 10 years, when added to vehicles purchase costs and other expenses.

"The key to having improved services is increased personnel, but this town is made up of working people, so there are few volunteers," Blanchard said.

Bellevue voters will decide next week whether to support a bond and 20-year tax increase to buy a new $300,000 "pumper" fire truck, pay $65,000 toward purchase of property and pay for $10,000 in equipment upgrades at the Bellevue Fire Department building. The $65,000 portion of the bond would be used to acquire property additional to the new fire station, perhaps for a training facility, Koch said.

The bond would raise taxes $1.40 per month per $100,000 of property valuation to raise $375,000 for the department.

Former City Councilman Jon Wilkes asked council members why they were not waiting to see if the bond passes before acquiring the new fire station building.

"It seems that the horse is at the other end of the cart," Wilkes said.

Koch and council Chair Dave Hattula said the bond and the acquisition of the new station were two separate issues.

"I can assure you we have done our due diligence," Hattula said. "This is a fair exchange."

He added that "we hope to get the 40 more [fire department] volunteers that we need."

Fire Chief Greg Beaver expressed gratitude to the council and to the city for supporting the upgrade.

Beaver said an opportunity to consolidate with the Hailey Fire Department was shot down in 2007 by the Bellevue City Council. He said his department has nevertheless worked hard for the citizens of Bellevue, often borrowing from other departments under mutual aid and auto aid agreements to respond to emergencies.

"We have been asking all of the time and could not give back. Now we can try to give that help back," he said.

In other Bellevue news:

( The City Council authorized staff to write a letter to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority stating that the city opposes expansion of the airport at its current site.

( Clerk Dee Barton said strict measures used by the city to collect past-due sewer bills have been working.

"Shutting off water does wonders," Barton said.

( Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter reported that $10,000 in funding from the Idaho Transportation Department would be made available to the Bellevue Marshal's Office for traffic enforcement this year.

Tony Evans:

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