Task force discussing Steamboat fire, emergency services

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— Steamboat Springs City Council member Kenny Reisman thinks the talks will be better this time around.

The last time the City Council and rural Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District board of directors met to discuss consolidation of local fire and emergency services, Reisman said there were too many people to get anything done.

Those talks among the council, the district board and their attorneys — as many as 14 people at times — stalled, and the city hired a consultant to evaluate local fire and emergency services, as well as issues between the city and fire district. The City Council made evaluating those issues a priority this year.

This time, they’re taking a different approach with a small task force of two representatives from each entity meeting to evaluate fire-related issues.

“Just the fact that we’ve pared it down so we can develop a relationship and put together some voices on both sides is positive, and now that they’re progressing, as we were told the other day, that’s good,” Reisman said. “This is one of the benefits of getting everything out in the open and getting clear direction about where we want to head.”

City Council member Walter Magill, who serves on the task force along with City Council President Bart Kounovsky, gave a short update after the March 6 meeting.

Magill explained that the task force was discussing a revision to the intergovernmental agreement between the city and district, in which the district contracts fire and emergency services from the city, that was drafted in 2001 and amended in 2009. He said they had talked about creating a commission with representatives from the City Council and fire district board to meet bimonthly to oversee those services, similar to the Yampa Valley Airport Commission, which oversees operations of Yampa Valley Regional Airport and Steamboat Springs Airport.

Kathy Connell, president of the fire district board of directors, helped set up the Airport Commission. She said that it’s been successful and that she sees the same potential with some type of fire commission.

In addition to reviewing the Airport Commission’s structure, the task force, which also includes fire district board member Allan White, was researching other fire commissions in places like Frisco, Glenwood Springs and Leadville, Connell said.

She said the big goal of negotiations is recognizing the greater community outside city limits and determining how best to serve those residents while continuing to meet Steamboat’s fire and emergency service needs.

Kounovsky said a fire commission would help keep lines of communication open between the city and fire district.

“It appears that the citizens and the fire protection district are being served very well by this coming together that happened with these two entities years ago,” he said. “We need to keep working to keep those lines of communications open so issues are heard.”

Acting Public Safety Director Joel Rae said he’s heard that the task force is making progress.

There had been some tension between the city and district since those consolidation talks previously broke down. The consultant, International City/County Managers Association, made some recommendations to the City Council in January that weren’t well-received by local fire and emergency service providers, such as reduced staffing.

Fire Chief Ron Lindroth resigned in January to take a similar position with the Central Valley Fire District in Belgrade, Mont. He was replaced by EMS Battalion Chief Mel Stewart.

Although he didn’t cite issues between the city and the fire district as the reason he was leaving, Lindroth had alluded in the past to having to report to two bosses, the city and district.

Connell and City Council members in recent meetings have stressed the importance of addressing those issues. They have recommended first working out the governance issue and creating a plan to manage fire and emergency services in a way that best meets the needs of residents of Steamboat and surrounding areas.

“It will be good to get that behind us,” Rae said about the fire issues.

Although they’re not talking about consolidating the city and district fire operations, Connell said the task force could get there in the future. She even hinted at the possibility of a regional fire commission.

“Our goal is we really want to engage them to be as creative as possible,” she said. “We all want to create a way of working together that can grow and encompass other areas in the future. ... Whatever structure we put in now, it’s like building a house plan that can be added onto in the future.”

Kounovsky stopped short of speculating what the future of the task force might hold, instead focusing on revising the intergovernmental agreement. But Magill said he thought the task force could work out the governance issues by Kounovsky’s July deadline.

“It’s been successful,” he said. “We’ve shared a lot of ideas. As we look forward to going again in early April, we’ll look to have some recommendations in June to the City Council and fire district.”

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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