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Administrative staff leaning toward future contract for services with Clackamas, not a merger

PMG FILE PHOTO - As of December 2021, Sandy Fire alone had responded to 2,500 calls in 2021, and as of November, the number for 2022 is 2,600 calls. Two years ago, Sandy Fire District entered into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Clackamas Fire District No. 1 in hopes of mutually benefitting the agencies' service areas by providing additional supports for an increasing number of calls. As of December 2021, Sandy Fire alone had responded to 2,500 calls in 2021, and as of November, the number for 2022 is 2,600 calls.

As an increase in demand rises, the two districts have just completed a feasibility study to find out how they could serve their communities better, and what actions to take for the future of Sandy Fire.

Similar studies have been done by Clackamas Fire with other partnering agencies, such as Estacada Fire, and the decision was later made that the two would integrate.

While many citizens in the Sandy district were concerned this study would lead their department down the same path, that doesn't appear to be the direction administrative staff are leaning toward.

The feasibility study, published by AP Triton, LLC in July, gives three recommended outcomes for Sandy: staying status quo, entering into another intergovernmental agreement or contracting with Clackamas Fire for services or integrating.

Of the three, Fire Chief Phil Schneider and McKinnon said the second was most likely.

Contracting for services is what Sandy has already been doing with Clackamas since 2020, but they'd likely strike a different deal in order to provide Sandy with even more human-power.

In recent years, Sandy Fire has made several arrangements with Clackamas and through mutual aid agreements to make sure those living in the district have emergency services.

The boards of directors for both Clackamas Fire and Sandy Fire approved an intergovernmental agreement for staffing of the Eagle Creek station during meetings in April 2021. The IGA went into effect July 1, 2021.

Because of the agreement there are three firefighters, with a minimum of one paramedic, at the station at 32200 S.E. Judd Road. Previously, the station was staffed by Clackamas Fire 40 hours per week with three firefighters.

The increased staffing is expected to improve emergency response for Barton, Boring, Carver, Eagle Creek and Sandy.

"We're paying for three and getting nine firefighters," Schneider said recently. "It's been a great adventure."

One major point against merging the Sandy Fire and Clackamas Fire Districts, Schneider added is "if we merged, we'd go to (Clackamas') mill rate, to 2.42 (per $1,000 of a property's assessed value) from 2.17. If we go with option two, we'd keep the same rate." And this decision would have to go before voters.

Clackamas said they could offer Sandy Fire a three-person engine company if they made a new contract for services. Currently, Sandy Fire operates with a four-person crew 35% of the time and a three-person company 65% of the time. With the contract, they'd gain two people per 12-hour period (during the peak call time).

Clackamas has come to the table with a three-person 24/7 engine company and a two-person peak unit for 12 hours a day for seven days a week.

"It's a guaranteed increase in service," McKinnon said.

"A lot (of) this is money," Schneider said. "If we can get more for less money, of course I'm going to do that. Money is a big thing right now; people are really struggling."

And these inter-local and intergovernmental agreements help do just that. Through a contract, Schneider is hopeful they'll be able to offer the same level of service their taxpayers are accustomed to, to their growing community and without putting that cost back on the residents.

"Since the start of the IGA in 2020, we have been able to meet service delivery along with having an effective response work force. Clackamas Fire provides training for all paid staff, volunteers, 24/7 Battalion Chief coverage, and fleet maintenance," Schneider said in a letter he sent out to residents on Nov. 18. "In 2021, we budgeted to add staffing to the Eagle Creek Community Fire Station. By sharing the cost, we were able to add a second staffed engine 24/7 assisting both Sandy and Eagle Creek areas for emergency calls. We have completed the feasibility study and AP Triton recommends an Expanded Functional & Operational Partnership through an IGA. Sandy Fire Board of Directors have asked Clackamas Fire for a draft contract for future consideration with no additional cost to property taxes."

Though a merger of districts doesn't seem to be in the cards for Sandy and Clackamas, the union for Sandy has voted unanimously for the contract for service route, and they also moved over to working with the Clackamas Firefighter Union No. 1159 in July 2022.

McKinnon said the Sandy Fire administrators have worked "to be very transparent" throughout this process.

"This is about offering the best service possible to the community," he added.

The feasibility study document is available for the public to read online at sandyfire.org/feasibility-study.

The Sandy Fire board of directors will meet on Dec. 15, for a work session at 4:30 p.m. and meeting at 7 p.m. to further discuss the options presented in the study, look over a draft of an operational contract from Clackamas and hear again the Sandy administrators' recommendation.

Schneider said he hopes to have a decision by the first of the year, but that is not set in stone.


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