City, fire district looking to the future
City Council, Fire District No. 3 Board to discuss future at May 4 joint meeting
De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson said it's for time De Soto to become a house united as far as its fire service is concerned.
Four years ago this month, the Johnson County Commission rejected the city of De Soto's request to detach that part of Rural Fire District No. 3 that was in the city limits. Although much of the five-square miles the city wanted to detach was part of the city's 1999 annexation, it included properties De Soto annexed in the preceding three decades.
The future relationship of the city and the fire district resurfaced when Johnson County Assistant County Administrator Hannes Zacharias convened a meeting earlier this month of the county's rural fire districts and bordering cities.
The county's purpose for the meeting was to attempt to find a common solution to the issue of cities expanding into areas served by the county's rural fire departments. De Soto City Administrator Greg Johnson and Rural Fire District No. 3 Board President Kent Dvorak said the consensus at the meeting was that there was no common answer.
"I don't look for the county to take much of a lead in this," Dvorak said. "They came to this hoping they could resolve issues countywide, all at one time. I think it was recognized there were different communities that want different things. It was agreed it would have to be addressed on a district-by-district basis."
Officials from the cities and fire districts left the meeting with the admonishment to meet to discuss their futures. The De Soto City Council and Fire District No. 3 Board will do that at a special meeting Tuesday.
Dvorak said the fire district's southern boundary with Rural Fire District No. 2 was secure, but it did face pressure from De Soto to the north and from Olathe, which wanted to detach those eastern portions of the fire district it had annexed.
With the door opened by the county, Anderson said it was time for De Soto to once again pursue detachment in concert with Olathe.
The impetus was the growth in the so-called "no-fire" part of the city, which now had an assessed valuation nearly equal to those sections of the city served by the De Soto Volunteer Fire Department, Anderson said. The growth of the no-fire part of the city and revenue it provided the fire district was the stimulus behind the district's recent $800,000 bond issue, primarily needed to serve its part of De Soto, Anderson said.
Anderson suggested the city detach that part of the district within the city limits and those assets within the fire district meant to serve that territory. The added revenue the city would receive from that detachment would be used to retire the debt the fire district took on to serve its part of De Soto. That revenue would also be dedicated to paying for operational costs in what is now the fire district's portion of De Soto, he said.
"What would change?" Anderson asked. "The service would be the same. The (fire district) Board would still be in place.
"It would take some work, but it can be done."
He had heard fire district proposals that called for consolidation with a pre-acknowledged sunset date at which the fire district would cease to exist, Anderson said. His proposal was more aggressive at acknowledging the fact the fire district would disappear, the mayor said.
"If in fact long-term these entities go away, what's wrong with initiating that discussion?" he said. "I think everybody recognizes there is a problem, and that everybody thinks it needs to be resolved. My intention is simply to put the problem in the hands of the citizens of De Soto."
Dvorak said he preferred to wait until the May 4 meeting to talk about specific proposals, after having listened to the thoughts of those in the city and fire district. But he added that leadership in the fire district was amenable to a solution.
"I think the consolidation of the two fire districts is probably appropriate, and the rural fire board is probably (thinking) along those lines," he said. We have to talk about how that is put together."
Anderson and Dvorak said the public was happy with the service the city and fire district provided. All proposals would have to be measured against how well that level of service was maintained, they said.
The most difficult issue could be one of control, Anderson said. Although that included the policy level of Board and City Council, the thornier issue could be the day-to-day management level of "who checks the tires and who says, 'Go get training,'" he said.
Anderson and Johnson said there were several reasons for the city to resolve the longstanding issue.
The city had a new fire station in its capital improvement plan, Johnson said. The city needed to know what territory it would serve before it could adequately decide where that station should be built, he said.
Anderson said the issue was more basic. The continued writing off of half of the city severely impaired the city's ability to upgrade its department, he said.
Anderson and Johnson said a resolution to the issue would ensure taxpayers weren't paying for duplicated services. That situation could get worse if future city councils and fire district boards got in a race to improve their positions through acquisitions and added levels of service, Anderson said.