Future of fire department trial merger will be decided soon

Consultant's report says consolidation saves money

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October 4, 2005 Janet L. Mathews/The Columbian A morning view of the Columbia River Gorge, with Beacon Rock left.

Since July 2011, the Camas and Washougal fire departments have been taking part in a functional consolidation as a way to pinpoint financial and process efficiencies and improve service levels.

That effort’s long-term future will likely be decided soon, as elected officials consider information provided in a recently released consultant’s report.

“I was impressed with the report in the way it pointed toward the fact that the work we’ve done together has yielded some substantial positive results that were surprising to [consultant Paul Lewis] and frankly surprising to me,” said Camas City Councilman Steve Hogan. “There are some interesting options, but I think it really stated or proved that the cooperation between all parties was impressive.”

The three options on the table include having the cities continue on the current path toward a complete functional consolidation; pursue the formation of a regional fire authority taxing district that must be authorized by a citizen vote; or go back to operating as independent fire departments with a joint ambulance transport agreement.

The report prepared by Lewis indicated that while the functional consolidation method reflects the lowest overall cost, the costs to revenues and expenditures associated with each of the structures are comparable.

“Mr. Lewis recommended that both departments continue their present consolidation for the foreseeable future since the effort was saving the most amount of money possible while increasing levels of service,” Chief Nick Swinhart said in a statement. “He further recommended that the often discussed regional fire authority option be delayed, but that it could remain as an option in the future.”

A Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee, made up of elected officials from both cities, has been meeting regularly since May 2012 to hash out the issue.

The consultant’s report and possible recommended path forward is expected to be discussed at the next RFA Committee meeting set for Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 5:30 p.m., at a location to be determined.

“Coming out of that [meeting] will be the courses of action or recommendation to Council,” explained Camas City Councilman Greg Anderson, a member of the RFA Committee.

Ultimately, the city councils in Camas and Washougal will decide which of the three options will be pursued. The current Camas-Washougal trial merger agreement expires at the end of this year.

The $5,600 cost to hire Lewis was split between the two cities, and was approved with a contract in November 2012.