District commissioners OK consolidation
Fire commissioners from Point Roberts and two other fire districts have signed an agreement creating a unified fire and rescue service for northern Whatcom County. North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services (NWFRS) will be an umbrella organization running administration, planning, training and operations for district 13, covering Blaine, Birch Bay and surrounding areas, district three, covering the area around Lynden, and district five, Point Roberts.
Im very excited, said fire district 13 chief David England following the June 26 signing of the interlocal agreement, which binds the three districts together for a three-year trial period. Im convinced were going to be able to deliver a level of service thats only been dreamed of. Its a functional consolidation in that were putting our administration and operations together while maintaining the integrity of our boards.
England, who initially proposed the consolidation, said it would prevent duplication. Now we have three fire chiefs and 95 percent of our productivity stayed within our district, despite trying to network together, he said. What this does is put three fire chiefs together to achieve the same kinds of things more efficiently by specializing in different areas,
Point Roberts fire chief Mike Campbell said the arrangement would allow the Point Roberts fire district to reduce its administrative costs, which all districts would share, and spend those dollars on increased staff to respond to calls. The whole point of this is local districts, with local control, buying services from a cooperative entity. For us perhaps the most important services will be maintenance and training, he said. District 13 now has two full-time mechanics and an equipment repair shop.
A six-member board made up of two commissioners from each district will steer the new organization. Don Frantz and John Fisher, the remaining district 5 commissioners after the resignation of Dan Levy, represent Point Roberts. The board will meet monthly and all decisions require a majority to pass and at the support of at least one representative from each district.
During the next six months, the board will review organizational charts, funding plans, budgets, equipment and facilities plans and volunteer management and staffing plans, developed jointly by Campbell, England and district 3 senior officers the district 3 chiefs position is vacant. Everything will remain in place as far as where people are located except that chief Campbell will come and reside in this office with me, England said. We cant do it all over the phone.
Campbell said he would not be moving permanently on July 1, when the planning phase begins. There will be times I need to be there and on those days someone will be here, he said. If Im not here physically the partnership needs to put a body here. England speculated that Captain Jim Rutherford from the Blaine fire department or Point Roberts deputy chief Bill Skinner could replace Campbell. Campbell added the situation was preferable to the existing one. Now when Im doing planning things no ones here. Campbell is president of the county association of fire chiefs and on several countywide emergency medical services planning boards.
Until an initial budget is developed, each district will continue to pay the salaries and expenses it does now, regardless of how personnel is shuffled, England said. After January 2002, NWFRS will directly employ all full-time personnel, which will be deployed according to an adopted facilities plan. Districts will make payments directly to the new organization, their contributions based on the full-time equivalents in services the district uses. All facilities and equipment will remain the property of the districts, but will be managed by NWFRS.
The position here is slated to become a batallion chiefs job, Campbell said. They would hire somebody if it isnt me.
With Campbell seen as the leading candidate to eventually developing an independent north county emergency medical service, it is unlikely he would remain as a batallion chief in Point Roberts. Medical response is becoming even more important, England said. All of our strategic plans have pointed us towards delivering medical service more efficiently intermediate life support or better. Mike Campbell is one of the key individuals around us able to do that.
The bottom line is, I am the bargaining chip, Campbell admitted. Weve done something up here they want. Lets take advantage of it if we can, Campbell said. Asked why a public hearing was not held to get community input, or the consolidation issue put to a vote, Campbell said it was an operations decision that did not require a mandate from voters. The public doesnt decide how to get a fire truck to your house, he said.
Mike Campbell came here to do a job and he did the job, said Point Roberts fire commissioner Don Frantz said. He gets two or three job offers a week. Hes ready to move on. This way we still get the benefit of his expertise. The money weve been spending on Mike Campbell will stay here and we can afford one or two firefighters, he said. He added a new volunteer plan could see 24 hour staffing of the fire station by paid and volunteer personnel. Frantz said he would also propose the levy rate be raised in November to $1.27 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to insure three full-time firefighters on staff in Point Roberts.
The new interlocal agreement states the intent of the districts is to move towards a full merger, and Frantz said he thinks he has the support of the community in leading the district in that direction. When the three years are over, I think the people wont have any problems opting for a merger into one big taxing district, he said.
Rich Lloyd, who was defeated by Levy in the last election and has twice been rebuffed in seeking an appointment as fire commissioner, thinks the current consolidation and the prospect of a merger are a losing proposition for Point Roberts. I believe it will cost our community coverage, protection and dollars, he said. In a merger we would lose some of the quality of service weve developed here to other communities. To stop the march towards a merger, Lloyd said he hopes community members will go to fire district meetings and make their concerns known. The problem right now is, if nothing is done, there is a point where there will be no returning.
The Point Roberts fire commissioners next meeting is July 5, 7 p.m. at the community center on Gulf Road.