Full report now available on Newport City Website: Click here, then click on Lincoln County Fire and Emergency Services Study. (Under Latest News)
Lincoln County’s population is around 45,000. There are many cities and towns that big and who don’t have 19 fire stations, 9 fire departments, 9 fire chiefs, 15-to 20 supervisors and a small army of volunteers. That’s Lincoln County. Granted, Lincoln County is spread out and we need lots of volunteers but in an era of shrinking government budgets and declining revenues, something’s gotta give. Many fire officials agree Lincoln County’s numerous and far-flug fire departments are not as efficient as they could be, and must be, in order to maintain high levels of fire protection and other emergency services for the same or less tax revenues.
Oregon fire services consultants, Emergency Services Consulting International, unveiled an analysis of 7 of our 9 county fire departments (Toledo and Seal Rock didn’t participate, although top Toledo officials were on hand to observe and engage the consultants) and they came up with a number of observations. The various departments need to provide additional and more consistent fire training and professional skills certification. They need more volunteers. They need more public outreach on fire prevention and earthquake and tsunami preparedness. They need to share fire marshal duties, consolidate physician adviser services, apply for federal grants to get fire equipment and stations up and out of tsunami zones, centralize 9-1-1 dispatch services (they’re working on it). The consultants also reported there are easier and less expensive ways to maintain fire equipment; namely contract with North Lincoln Fire which has its own maintenance facility. Fire departments should pool their “reserve fire trucks” so there aren’t so many parked out back behind 9 fire stations. Less is more, in that department. They said records management should be consolidated with one software system shared across a network so everybody’s speaking the same language and can keep better track of things.
Sharing and better coordination of fire operations was taken out for a test drive of “what if.” Like, what if North Lincoln Fire, Depoe Bay, Newport city and Rural Fire, Siletz, Central Coast and Yachats all combined into one consolidated department. ESCI consultant Don Bivins said “No. Not now.” Bivins said it would create a huge financial imbalance between the departments, pit complex fire fighting against less complex rural fire fighting, create big differences in the level of service and create so many big changes that it just wouldn’t work. “No, not in the near term,” he said.
What if North Lincoln and Depoe Bay consolidated? Bivins said there is a high likelihood that it would succeed. Monthly taxes to get more efficient fire services would cost just $1.28 a month more for property owners inside the North Lincoln Fire District, and about $3.30 a month more for those living in the Depoe Bay Fire District.
What if Newport city and Rural departments teamed up with Toledo and Siletz? Bivins said, at this time there is only little likelihood it would succeed. It would produce wide differences in levels of services among the communities and a likewise large imbalance in revenues to pay for them. An better alternative would be to combine Newport city and Newport Rural fire departments, and have Siletz join with Toledo.
What if Yachats, Central Coast (Waldport) and Seal Rock fire departments joined forces? Bivins said it would very likely work. But it would involve consolidating fire stations and would see local property taxes drop by $6.51 a month in Yachats but rise $8.57 a month in Waldport.
What if Newport city and Rural fire departments consolidated with yachats and Seal Rock? Not much chance, said Bivins; big fiscal imbalance, high-low complexity differences and a rather large difference in service levels.
What if Newport city and Rural, Depoe Bay and North Lincoln Fire joined hands? Bivins said there is a good chance it would work. Property taxes would drop ten cents a month for those living in Newport, 80-cents less a month for those living in the Newport Rural district, they’d go up by $3.55 a month in Depoe Bay and up $1.80 a month for those living in the North Lincoln Fire District.
These are only very sketchy highlights of the meeting. ESCI’s very thick report was delivered to all participating fire departments for the chief’s to peruse and share with their fire boards and city councils. Newport Fire Chief Phil Paige said he would make sure that the report, in its entirety, would be on the city of Newport’s Fire Department webpage. See top of story.
Bivins said this is just the beginning of many, many meetings and discussions about the future of fire services in Lincoln County. He said there will likely be economies of scale, resource sharing and management improvements to come out of those meetings and discussions. Ultimately it will be up to the fire fighters themselves who will help guide their boards and city councils, as well as the public, to forge new inter-department agreements to produce smarter, leaner and more higher performing fire services in Lincoln County.
Let the dialog begin.