City seeks clarity on fire service priorities

By Scott Aust
Garden City Telegram – April 16, 2014

While reviewing the schedule for department budget presentations on Tuesday, the Garden City Commission took a detour to talk about priorities for future fire station projects.
Commissioner Melvin Dale expressed concern that a remodel of the central fire station, identified as a top goal during February’s goal-setting retreat, had changed places in priority with a project to build a third fire station on the city’s east side.
“Somehow that has switched,” Dale said. “My concern is that since we made that decision, that this got flip-flopped.”
Two weeks ago all five commissioners, including Dale, voted to ratify goals that included a reference to a goal of “study future fire needs of the community.”
Dale said a third fire station was in the city’s capital improvement program for a number of years and kept getting pushed to the side until “it flat got swept underneath the rug and forgotten about.”
Dale said he had no problem with either project, and seemed to support both, but continued to express concern about how the city’s goals were worded, and whether the feasibility study language really means neither project will be pursued.
City Manager Matt Allen said his understanding of the council’s most recent discussion about fire stations was that it was better to hire a third party to examine facility needs and help determine the most ideal ways for the city to invest its resources “instead of sitting here and duking it out” over two potential projects.
“If the balance of the commission thinks something different than that, we can certainly change it around. That was us trying to reflect what we understood that you would like us to package in the language of your goals, so we know how to prepare the budget,” Allen said.
Allen said nobody in city administration or fire administration has any intent to “sweep projects that are a commission priority under the rug. It doesn’t make sense to do that.”
Allen said staff is only interested in identifying what a majority of the commission wanted to do.
“There’s no other agenda. If somebody believes there is, I would ask you be clear and direct about what you think is going on,” Allen said. “If there isn’t a majority of support on the commission to do a project, you’re right, it won’t be done.”
Dale said studying future fire safety needs is “pretty vague” and should spell out more definitively what the city plans to do about fire facilities.
But other commissioners said a study would help update information about a third fire station, which was first proposed more than a decade ago, and that information would have an impact on the scope of a central fire station remodel.
“No project gets swept unless we decide it gets swept,” Commissioner Chris Law said.
Mayor Roy Cessna said the feasibility study could help the city determine if a third fire station is in the right location, and if it’s determined more effort should be put into a third station, that could reduce the scope of the central fire station remodel.
“We are wanting to make sure we have the best possible situation for our fire service, in the best possible spaces. Because once you set a fire station down, it’s there for a long time,” Cessna said. “But I don’t think we’re trying to sweep anything. I think what we’re trying to do is get the best possible idea of how to spend the resources the best way.”
Commissioner Dan Fankhauser indicated despite what the goals are, building a third fire station really isn’t in the cards for the city right now.
“I wouldn’t vote for a new fire station,” Fankhauser said. “I mean, that’s a big expense that we’re not prepared for right now. I don’t think there’s a need for it right now. There may be in another two years, or whatever.”
Allen said while the goals are important, they are essentially just words on paper. It becomes more important when the commission decides to put money in the budget for a project.
“That kind of makes whatever you’re saying you want to do a little more serious,” he said.
Allen said he hasn’t heard anybody, either commissioner or staff, advocate for a reduction of fire services since he became city manager 12 years ago. In fact, the city has acquired property over the years in anticipation of growth to the north and east.
“Until we can more clearly define something, I think maybe we’re talking past one another a bit on this, and creating the impression that there’s a force working against expanding fire protection services,” Allen said. “In my mind, there’s no evidence to that. There’s probably no general fund department that’s received a larger increase in funding the last 10 years.”
Steve Cottrell, city engineer, said he and fire department Chief Allen Shelton are discussing the preparation of a request for a feasibility and facilities study, which would come to the commission for review and approval before it’s submitted, by the second meeting in May at the latest.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster

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