Committee supports making fire department merger permanent

Camas and Washougal city councils are expected to hash out the specifics

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Camas and Washougal should pursue expanding their current fire department consolidation efforts, instead of the formation of a regional fire authority, a committee made up of elected city leaders recently recommended.

During the Tuesday, Feb. 26 Regional Fire Authority Committee meeting, members voted to support a recommendation to cease pursuit of forming a regional fire authority, and proceed with the current interlocal agreement and explore further integration of the two departments.

The current Camas-Washougal trial merger agreement expires at the end of this year.

During a joint meeting in April, the Camas and Washougal city councils are expected to discuss the particulars, including looking at policy and governance issues, and how a full integration could be structured. Tackling all of those issues, said Camas City Administrator Nina Regor, is likely to take some time.

“We are facing a short-term deadline and a long-term issue of how we provide fire service to the community,” explained Regor. “And you might have two different answers to that.”

Washougal City Administrator David Scott said the current inter-local agreement could be extended, so that the long-term model could be more firmly established.

“This will be a significant project for us to work on, but we’ve got a great foundation to work from,” he said. “I’m confident.”

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.

A report prepared by consultant Paul Lewis released in January 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.

Establishing an RFA would require voter approval and the formation of a separate governing board.

The International Association of Fire Fighters’ Local 2444 represents Camas and Washougal firefighters. President Kevin Bergstrom said CFD and WFD personnel have been working without a union contract since Jan. 1, and are anxious to see the trial merger transform into a permanent consolidation.

“We are motivated to continue this thing,” Bergstrom said. “It is our goal to make sure this works for both communities.”

According to city officials, since starting the trial merger, progress reports have had an overall positive tone.

“Long-range, the value of working together has been shown, and we don’t want to give that up,” said Camas City Councilman Greg Anderson, a member of the committee.

The joint meeting between the Camas and Washougal city councils is tentatively scheduled for Monday, April 8, at 4:30 p.m., at Washougal City Hall, 1701 “C” St. In addition to issues surrounding the fire department consolidation, other topics will include an update on the C-W Municipal Court and an animal control inter-local agreement.