Just a month after the Scappoose Fire Protection District and Columbia River Fire and Rescue boards of directors agreed to form a fire authority, the CRFR board voted 3-2 at a meeting Thursday, March 12, to abandon the existing cooperative agreement with Scappoose Fire, which has defined how the agencies' administrations work together since 2016, and move forward alone as of July 1.
"Overall, a majority of the Board felt that a pause to the process of a fire authority or eventual merger is the right thing to do right now for CRFR," wrote Hans Feige, CRFR's board chair, in a response email to the Spotlight. "Both Boards believe that eventually the right course of action is to merge, but there are many issues that have arisen as we have started working through the numerous details associated with this kind of thing. These issues include staffing levels, tax rates, staff utilization, equipment, etc."
The Scappoose Fire board did not vote to disband.
Based on the recommendation from Matrix Consulting Group as outlined in a 96-page report to the boards, the joint board members unanimously agreed Feb. 13 to advance the fire authority concept to further share resources.
A fire authority, as envisioned for Scappoose Fire and CRFR, would have expanded the existing intergovernmental agreement between the districts by setting up a district — the fire authority — separate from Scappoose Fire and CRFR that would have its own board and would initially oversee administrative staff. After a year, the plan was to move all personnel, including firefighters and paramedics, under
the umbrella of the fire authority.
The districts have been operating under an IGA to share a fire chief since 2016. The IGA expired in June 2018, though the boards modified and renewed it yearly since that time. Last July, in anticipation of longtime Fire Chief Mike Greisen's retirement, the joint boards settled on the hiring of Fire Chief Dennis Hoke, who was brought on in part due to his potential to help the boards develop a system for more shared resources. Per terms of the original IGA, either individual board could disband the IGA with a majority vote.
David Graham, president of the Scappoose Fire District board, noted that a workshop with CRFR has been planned for later this month, on
March 24, to look at next steps, though the workshop could be disrupted due to COVID-19 concerns.
"Chief Hoke is our employee. Right now things will be functioning as before," he wrote in an email to the Spotlight. "I don't know what Crfr has planned."
At the March 24 meeting, Feige anticipates that "many of the organizational issues (Fire Authority) and re-alignment issues (staffing) will be discussed and hopefully worked out," he wrote, adding that a second workshop is in the works to discuss what was working, and what wasn't, to "better inform future boards/staff and direct both organizations towards and an eventually merger."
Despite the fact both districts had been splitting the cost of a fire chief per the IGA, Feige indicated CRFR would not suffer a financial burden as a result of scuttling the agreement.
"Some administrative realignment is required, but the CRFR staff have assured me that this does not place a financial burden on CRFR," he wrote.
Firefighter union representatives offered some pushback on the drive to establish the fire authority shortly after the vote to move forward with the strategy, arguing they had been left out of the discussion. Ron Morgan, the communications manager for Tualatin Valley Firefighters Union, which represents Scappoose firefighters, said the timeline for establishing the fire authority was "very, very aggressive" and added that the union had not been involved in the process.
Correction: This story has been corrected from the original version to reflect the status of David Grant, who serves on the Scappoose Fire board. Grant resigned his position at the March 12 joint fire boards meeting, with the resignation effective as of April 1, per Grant. Grant's resignation is not associated with the split between Scappoose Fire and CRFR. A press release distributed by the joint fire districts on Wednesday, March 18, misstated the effective date of Grant's resignation. The Spotlight regrets the error.
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