Councilmembers and administrators from five cities met in Ramsey to hear what the Shared Services Fire Committee discovered during it research of fire districts.
On April 12, St. Francis City Administrator Matt Hylen presented the committee’s findings at the Ramsey Municipal Center to representatives from Bethel, Nowthen, Oak Grove, Ramsey and St. Francis.
The committee, which included elected officials, city administrators, fire chiefs and firefighters, looked at the benefits, impacts and issues that might arise from the cities combining their fire departments into a district.
According to the committee’s report, research found benefits of shared services, including the impact to ISO (Insurance Service Office) ratings, standardized training, increased buying power, increased employee pool, improved response times and long-term operational savings.
In the outlying areas of the potential fire district, residents could see their ISO’s drop from a rating of nine to seven, Hylen said.
“Our taxpayers will be paying less for insurance,” he said.
Bethel City Councilmember Brian Kirkham said he called his insurance company and if Bethel was part of the district, it would drop his ISO from a nine to a seven and he would save between $80 and $150 a year on insurance.
The number of firefighter responding to calls could increase.
Firefighters who live in one city and work in a second city in the district could report to two different stations, maximizing the number of people who could respond to calls, Hylen said
But the final report also points out some issues to sharing service, including impacts on firefighter retirement associations, loss of identity, allocation of existing equipment, types of services offered and debt.
If the district was implemented, it is possible some of the existing equipment could be shifted to locations where it would be better utilized and better serve the residents, Hylen said.
Other issues the cities could face are an increase in budgets to create a new public services system structure where one does not exist or needs to be upgraded and choosing a governing structure and make-up of the combined department.
While the committee looked at various governing structures, it did not pick one nor did it look at the cost to each city to fund the district, Hylen said.
It also did not look at what a joint district would be called, he said.
If the cities decided to move forward with the district concept, a study would be done on what is the best governing and funding structure, Hylen said.
While the councils have until June 1 to decide if the individual cities would move forward, there is no timetable set on when a fire district would be formed.
The goal of the April 12 meeting was to stimulate further investigation of the possibility of shared fire services, Hylen said.
Tammy Sakry is at email@example.com