Union puts together committee

By Kelly Black, Observer correspondent February 15, 2013 11:08 am

by KELLY BLACK / Observer correspondent

UNION — Union City Council and board members from the Union Rural Fire Protection District established a negotiating committee Wednesday evening to look into the feasibility of the city contracting with the rural district for fire services.

“We realize that many of us have properties in the city limits as well as out,” said Rodger Huffman, vice chairman of the Rural Fire Protection District. “So certainly, we wouldn’t miss this opportunity to explore the benefits for everybody. If it doesn’t hurt rural and it helps the city of Union, it’s a win, win.” 

In an effort to be competitive for grants, consolidate and upgrade equipment and meet OSHA and federal regulations, the council and board discussed the possibility of creating a new district that includes both the city and rural areas. Either a long-term contract or a new joint district could make Union fire services more competitive for grants, which are based on call volume, population and area covered. While a contract for service is a council and board decision, establishing a new district would require ballot measures.

Although the city fire department and rural fire district are both under the direction of Chief Keith Montgomery, share a building and utilize the same volunteers, they own separate equipment and have different revenue sources.

This year, the Rural Fire District received about $32,000 in tax revenue based on property values. The operational budget for the past two years has been about $40,000 with additional funds sourced from savings and a $10,000 grant.

The city budgeted nearly $80,000 to operate the city fire department this year. The city received $54,000 from a monthly residential service fee, with additional operational funds coming primarily from ambulance service revenue.

The fate of the city ambulance service will be part of the negotiations. 

“There may be a split where we take the fire and the ambulance stays with the city or it may be a package deal,” Huffman said.

Both parties would like a decision, and potentially a contract in place, before the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

“I think everybody has the same goals and objectives,” said Councilor Roger Clark, who was selected to be on the negotiating committee. “I know the people on rural and I think we’ll be able to do this in a timely manner that will work for everyone.”