ECFR, CWFD partnership discussions surface again

Cost analysis could begin in July

A financial analysis of a potential merger or additional partnership opportunities between the East County Fire and Rescue and the Camas-Washougal Fire Department could begin soon.

During Monday’s Camas City Council workshop, CWFD Chief Nick Swinhart reviewed a proposed agreement with financial consultant Paul Lewis that outlines a scope of work. It includes assessing the feasibility of CWFD providing fire department services to ECFR, assessing service delivery and cost alternatives, estimating the costs to ECFR of contracting with CWFD for fire chief services, and summarizing the results of the analysis.

The proposed fire services cost analysis came about after ECFR officials recently contacted the city to discuss “partnering in some fashion,” according to Swinhart.

“We don’t know exactly what kind of form that would take, or what would work and what wouldn’t work,” he said. “The first step to trying to figure that out would be to get someone like Paul in here, who knows us quite well, and to have him look over the finances of both fire departments, the city and East County Fire and Rescue. From that, we try to determine what type of partnership, if any, would be possible with our colleagues to the north of us.”

City Councilman Greg Anderson questioned whether one of the tasks listed on the scope of work should be included. It states that Lewis would outline a transition plan for CWFD providing services to ECFR.

“It’s kind of pre-supposing the answer, ahead of the task,” he said.

Anderson also expressed concern that the draft contract does not include representation by the Camas City Council in the task that involves estimating the costs associated with the two organizations entering into a contract.

“I want this to be good, complete and believable,” he said of his hopes for the process. “I’m not (trying to) quash it, I want to make sure it’s transparent and not a surprise to anybody.”

The final results of the analysis would be presented to a committee made up of members of the City Council and Commission.

At a cost of $120 per hour for Lewis’ services, the contract states that the price tag for the analysis would not exceed $5,760.

Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said initial discussions have focused on ECFR paying for Lewis’ work, with Swinhart and Capell providing their services in-kind.

“But,” Capell qualified, “(ECFR commissioners) haven’t made that decision formally yet.”

ECFR Commission President Martha Martin said the group would discuss the cost analysis agreement during tonight’s regular meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at Station 91, 600 N.E. 267th Ave., in Fern Prairie.

In recent years, ECFR has dealt with a number of challenges including a reduction in some of its revenue streams, and questions about whether it should merge with neighboring jurisdictions. In addition, at the end of 2014, budget cuts included the elimination of three firefighter positions primarily due to the sunset of a three-year Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In January, Commissioners Martin, Mike Berg and Thomas Gianatasio fired Chief Scott Koehler “without cause.” Assistant Chief Dean Thornberry was immediately appointed acting fire chief, a position he remains in today.

In April, ECFR commissioners began a strategic planning process, which was facilitated by the State Auditor’s Office, at no cost to the district.

ECFR has six full-time and five part-time paid firefighters, in addition to 50 volunteers who provide fire protection and emergency medical service response to the 10,000 residents who live within the 60 square miles of unincorporated area that are north of and east of the cities of Camas and Washougal.

Following a nearly three year trial merger that began in July 2011, the Camas and Washougal fire departments successfully consolidated in December 2013, following the approval by both jurisdictions’ city councils of a 10-year contract.

ECFR was not involved in discussions during that effort.