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Jefferson County Fire District must decide what the district's next step will be.

HOLLY M. GILL/MADRAS PIONEER - Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services has decided not to participate in a task force discussing a merger with the Jefferson County Fire District.Just a month after the public release of the final report on the possibility of a merger between the Jefferson County Fire District and Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services, the ambulance district no longer wants to be part of the discussion.

HOLLY M. GILL/MADRAS PIONEER - Mike LepinIn a letter to County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen, City Administrator Gus Burril, and Fire Chief Brian Huff, Mike Lepin, the chief of JCEMS, said that the JCEMS Board of Directors met July 8, discussed the proposed task force in which the board was expected to participate, and made and passed a motion to remove itself from the plans.

"After full examination of the lengthy Matrix report, it has become obvious that it is financially imprudent for this community to continue consideration of consolidation of the fire and EMS departments, and the EMS District will not participate in the further lengthy consolidation consideration," the board noted in the motion.

The 191-page report by Matrix Consulting Group found that consolidation would require a permanent tax rate of at least $2.18 per $1,000 assessed value for a combined district. JCFD currently has a permanent rate of $1.18 per $1,000, but JCEMS does not have a tax rate, and relies primarily on user fees.

When the consolidation feasibility study was initiated in March 2018, both districts were dipping into their reserves to maintain operations. However, several months after the study started, JCEMS discovered that its billing practices were not recouping enough for supplies and services. Using new billing codes vastly improved the district's finances.

Among the advantages to combining the two districts would be the ability to cross-train and share staffing and volunteers at a time when there are fewer volunteers; find efficiencies to reduce costs for the district; and better prepare for the future. Both agencies were advised to work to improve dispatch and turnout times.

HOLLY M. GILL/MADRAS PIONEER - Brian HuffReacting to the emailed message, Huff commented, "While I was disappointed, I wasn't surprised. Their chief has been stating that his board does not see value in a merger for several months."

"My board has some decisions to make to give me and my staff direction moving forward," said Huff, who will be considering options for the fire district.

"We can look further into a levy on our own to both add the needed staff to provide 24-hour-a-day coverage, 365 days a year, and start replacing some of our aging fire trucks," he said.

As another alternative, Huff said, "We can continue service as a mostly volunteer agency and plan on replacing fire trucks only."

With direction from the board, he said, "I look forward to working through some choices for our future with them."

Contacted by email about the letter, Chris DuPont, chairman of the JCFD Board of Directors, noted, "I'll start by saying personally, I was disappointed to see the letter from the EMS District. It is apparent that the EMS District's interpretation of the feasibility study is different than ours."

"As for the board of the fire district, I cannot comment on our reaction as we have not yet met to discuss," he said. "We will be discussing their action at our next board meeting and make a determination from there."

"It was the hope and desire of our board to work together with EMS and design the future of the emergency services of Jefferson County," DuPont added. "We owe it to our community to provide the best level of service to protect life and property and to be stewards of our taxpayers' dollars."


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