Archive for Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fire service merger bill introduced in Topeka

It is expected the existing De Soto Fire Station will be replaced a few years after the unification of the city department with Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 3. That would free the existing station and old city hall for redevelopment that could add needed retail space downtown and help the city realize the goals of its downtown revitalization plan.

It is expected the existing De Soto Fire Station will be replaced a few years after the unification of the city department with Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 3. That would free the existing station and old city hall for redevelopment that could add needed retail space downtown and help the city realize the goals of its downtown revitalization plan.

April 3, 2008, 12:00 a.m.

Updated: April 2, 2008, 6:10 p.m.

A measure that would allow the unification of the De Soto Fire Department with Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 3 is waiting to hitchhike a ride through the Kansas Legislature.

De Soto City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle said he testified last week in behalf of the legislation before a House Committee. The chairman of the committee was positive and was looking for the right bill to attach the measure so that it could be approved this year, he said.

The city and fire district have said they would like to complete the merger by Jan. 1, 2009.

The measure would create a five-members board to govern the combined department. The De Soto City Council and the Johnson County Commission each would appoint two members to the board to three-year terms and share in the appointment of a fifth member on a rotating basis. The bill would give county commissioners the first three-year appointment to the rotating position.

Last month, De Soto City Councilman Tim Maniez expressed concern about ceding to the county commission the first rotating appointment during the initial years of the combined service when many policies and procedures that will guide the department were developed. Other council members didn't share his reservations and repeated the goal of the consolidation was the creation of a better and more efficient department.

Although Guilfoyle said he remained optimistic the Legislature will pass the enabling legislation this session, he was less confident all the financial and logistic details of the agreement could be in place this year.

"That's fine. We can muddle through for another year," he said.

Fire district board chairman Kent Dvorak said an agreement would have to be in place by about June 1 for a 2009 budget to be developed. But he said he saw no need to rush through an agreement with both sides remaining committed to the goal of unification.

"There's a lot of things we have got to finish up," he said. "It is possible it does get pushed back a year. If it comes down to doing it right or waiting a year, we'll probably take that option."

The unification will meld the equipment of both units from turnout gear to fire engines into the new department. Also to be the property of the new department is the two rural fire district stations south of De Soto.

That is not true of the downtown De Soto fire station, Guilfoyle said. One of the city's council's motivations to merge with the fire district, which includes most of the city outside of the old-town area, is the knowledge the station at 83rd and Wea streets is outdated and needs replaced.

In a financial assessment he shared with the city council last year, Guilfoyle found the merger would produce little savings for either department in operating expenses but would make capital improvements much more affordable.

Tops on the list of future expenses is a new building to replace the De Soto fire station. The city currently has $30,000 in its five-year capital improvement program to pay for a study of where that station would be best located. Guilfoyle said that money could be made available to the merged department to conduct the study.

Guilfoyle said he envisioned the city leasing its station to the merged department at a minimal rate until a new station was built.

Once a station is built, the city fire station and old city hall could provide the city with badly needed additional retail space and help the city council realize some of the goals of the downtown revitalization plan adopted in 2007, Guilfoyle said.

One of the features of the plan is a "pocket park" in the current fire station's parking lot.

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