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Jefferson County Fire District Board members approach merger plan with caution

TOM BROWN FOR THE PIONEER  - Janet Brown, Mike Ahern and Joe Krenowicz swear in as board members for the Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services. Their goal is to work themselves out of their positions.

Three newly elected members took their oaths to serve on the Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services board Monday, July 12, and promptly set to work on a plan to eliminate their positions.

Mike Ahern, Janet Brown and Joe Krenowicz campaigned for the board with an agenda to merge the county ambulance service with the county fire service.

Historically, the EMS board has resisted merging, but Ahern, Brown and Krenowicz now hold the majority, with board member Dave Budden strongly against consolidating, "I will always try to prevent that from happening," and the fifth board member, Steve Heydon, saying he feels the JCEMS should remain a "special self-supporting district." Heydon did not attend Monday night's meeting.

The board elected Ahern to serve as chairman and retain Heydon as vice chair, then adopted a resolution to establish a Consolidation Working Group to plan the merger.

"We'll hire a facilitator," says Ahern, "to get the meetings going and keep it organized and heading in the same direction."

The resolution also calls for hiring a merger consultant to work out details like pay, benefits and job description, essentially draft the details of the merger.

Tuesday, July 13, board members Brown and Ahern brought an identical resolution to the board of Jefferson County Fire District No. 1.

"I will describe their reaction in one word," says Ahern. "Cautious."

"It's definitely something I want to look at to see how to best serve the patrons of our community," says fire board member Chris Dupont, who doesn't consider the merger a done deal. "I haven't seen anything to make me commit one way or the other."

Dupont does support building a team to come up with a merger proposal.

Both boards will have attorneys examine the document and vote on adopting the resolution at their August meetings.

According to the resolution, the two boards would appoint a total of no more than 13 members: two members from each of the boards, a Jefferson County administrator or representative, the mayor or representative from the City of Culver, one board member from the Lake Billy Chinook Fire District or board member of the Three Rivers Homeowners Association, and six members of the public at large from within the fire district or the ambulance service area.

The group would meet at least monthly and report monthly to each district.

Ahern believes the process of merging the two services will take about 18 months.

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