Archive for Thursday, June 18, 2009

New fire department to have one chief

June 18, 2009

Upon further consideration, there will be no two-chief arrangement for the new Northwest Johnson Country Consolidated Fire Department.

Earlier this month, De Soto Fire Chief Kevin Ritter, Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 3 Chief Terry Zahner and RFD No. 3 operations manager Mark Billquist proposed two options for the consolidated district’s command structure to the five-member advisory committee overseeing the consolidation of the De Soto Fire Department and the rural fire district.

The two departments will consolidate on Jan. 1, 2010.

One proposal would have had two fire chiefs, an assistant chief of operations (Billquist), and two assistant chiefs (Mike Frehe and John Kramer). The command structure would also have three captains, an equal number of lieutenants and a volunteer assistant chief, volunteer captain, volunteer lieutenant and volunteer sergeant.

The other proposal would have a single chief, deputy fire chief, assistant fire chief of operations and two assistant fire chiefs. No names were slotted into any of the positions of the second option.

At that earlier meeting the advisory committee of city appointees Linda Zindler and Max Atwell and the three fire district board members Kent Dvorak, Larry Kroemer and Jay Lang asked the chiefs to bring a more complete proposals with names and salaries. That was especially true of the two-chief proposal, which seemed to have more favor among the chiefs.

But when the chiefs presented their updated proposals Tuesday, they discarded the two-chief option for a recommendation featuring a single-chief command structure.

Zahner said he came to favor a single-chief command as he considered the options in the days after the last meeting.

“I pretty much decided dual role has worked in some places put it wouldn’t work here,” he said.

Ritter said agreed with that assessment. He said the earlier two-chief option shouldn’t be seen as a sign that he and Zahner, both of whom intend to apply for the fire position, weren’t getting along.

“There’s no argument between Chief Zahner and me,” he said. “We are meshing pretty well.”

The advisory board members, who are requesting resumes from interested chief candidates before scheduling interviews, said they

“I do belief having one person in charge is the way to go,” Dvorak said.

However, he and Atwell said the knowledge of Ritter and Zahner would be needed as the new department faced challenges in the next couple of years.

Besides a cleaner chain of command, the single-fire structure saved about $6,000 in the new department’s 2010 budget. Both proposals would maintain the chief as a part-time position, as it now is in both De Soto and the fire district. The two-chief option would have paid both chiefs $27,000 a year, while the single-chief structure would pay the chief $27,000 and the deputy chief $21,000.

Adoption of the single-chief command structure provided the last piece of information needed to compute the combined department’s payroll for the 2010 budget. Billquist was to compute that Wednesday for the advisory board’s consideration.

With the firefighters’ agreement to forego salary increases in 2009 and 2010, the advisory committee agreed to switch for the Kansas Public Employees Retirement Fund to the Kansas Police and Fire fund. That will require a consolidated fire district match salaries at a 12.82 percent rate and not the KPERs rates of 5 percent for the city match and 6.54 percent rate for RWD No. 3.

However with the switch to KP&L, it is thought the consolidated district should be able to opt out of paying Social Security for its employees after two years.

With the command structure question settled, only updated valuation numbers from the Johnson County Appraiser’s Office is needed to craft the new consolidated department’s first budget. Those numbers are expected July 1 and the deadline to publish the budget in July 14.

On Tuesday, the advisory committee agreed to meet next on July 1 or as soon as the new updated valuation numbers were available.

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