Johnson County Commission OKs local fire service merger
The merger of the De Soto Fire Department and Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 3 got the Johnson County Commission’s approval last Thursday with a measure creating the Northwest Consolidated Fire District.
With the action, the Northwest Consolidated Fire District remains on track to replace the De Soto Fire Department and Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 3. on Jan. 1, 2010. The two fire departments have provided service to different sections of De Soto for decades as a result of annexations.
“It’s an exciting time,” said 6th District County Commissioner Calvin Hayden told De Soto City Council members at last Thursday’s city council meeting. “I think it’s going to be a great boon to all in the community — those living in the city and fire district.”
The merger of the two departments has been in the works for more than three years. The long-discussed effort was put on the fast track with the passage of a bill in the Kansas Legislature in spring 2008 that allowed the two departments to merge as a new entity.
The city council, fire board and county commission earlier this year approved a memorandum of understanding of the merger and appointed a five-member committee to coordinate it. De Soto City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle, who is working with the committee, said he was refining budget projections first made in March with more updated information. That early budget projected the consolidated district’s 2010 budget at $1.23 million, or a 2.3 percent increase from the combined budgets of both departments.
The two city-appointed members to the committee are former De Soto City Councilwoman Linda Zindler and Max Atwell, a retired firefighter and one-time chief of the De Soto department. The three fire district representatives are the three members of its fire board, Kent Dvorak, Larry Kramer and Jay Lang.
Meanwhile work continues on the merger with the most pressing issue approval of the new department’s 2010 budget, which is to be approved in August.
The budget includes the terms of a grant announced in March that allowed the hiring of three new firefighters, one for each shift, in the fire district. The $296,000 grant provides $101,000 of the new firefighters salaries and benefits (or 90 percent) for its first 12 months and decline each year until the local jurisdiction picks up the entire expense in the fifth year.
At a committee meeting last week, the board was asked to consider changing the new department’s pension fund from the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System to the Kansas Police and Fire. Guilfoyle said the KP&F pension was more expensive, requiring a contribution of 13.54 of salary from the Northwest Consolidated Fire District compared to the 5 percent contribute the fire district and 6.54 percent contribution the city now makes to KPERS for firefighters.
It was suggested firefighters might forego salary increases in 2009 and 2010 to make the change affordable. De Soto Fire Chief Kevin Ritter, Fire District Chief Terry Zahner and fire district operations manager Mark Billquist are to poll personnel to find if such an arrangement would be acceptable.
Also to be resolved before the adoption of a final budget for then new department is the command structure of the new department and a contract to provide fire service to the Sunflower plant. Guilfoyle said a 2010 contract for fire service was offered to Sunflower Redevelopment L.L.C. that would keep in place with this year’s fee of $72,000.
The committee is also requesting Sunflower Redevelopment donate 10 acres of land for a future fire department on the plant at either a location near Sunflower Road and 95th Street or 135th Street and Spoon Creek.
Also on tap in the coming weeks is the appointment of the five-member governing board of the Northwest Consolidated Fire District, which will replace the interim committee. The county and the city are to both name two members to the board with the appointment of the fifth member alternating between the two jurisdictions with the county making the first appointment. Guilfoyle said it was expected the city would re-appoint Atwell and Zindler. However, the enabling state statue allows the appointment of only two of the three current fire district board members.