Formation of new fire district on Barton County agenda

By John Green
March 12, 2018 – Ottawa Herald

Three cities and five townships in north-central Barton County are proposing to form a new fire district within the county.

Seven of the eight municipalities already work together under an ongoing longtime contract overseen by the city of Hoisington, but officials are looking to change the governance of the volunteer departments to give residents more input on decision making and formalize funding, said Hoisington City Manager Jonathan Mitchell.

“We’re looking at a structure that’s more sustainable,” said Mitchell, who will present the proposal to the Barton County Commission on Monday morning. “It has worked to this point, but we feel creating more of a formal thing would benefit the whole region and it’s a fairer way to do it.”

The proposal involves the cities of Hoisington, Susank and Olmitz, as well as the Albion, Eureka, North Homestead, South Homestead and Union townships. All except Olmitz jointly operate a volunteer station in Hoisington, which has 17 volunteers and covers about 180 square miles.

Olmitz, which is just inside the northeast corner Walnut township, has its own station which currently has 16 volunteers.

Walnut Township also has a station in Albert.

“We hope to keep the identities of these departments, but under a new governing structure,” Mitchell said. “Each taxing jurisdiction would have a representative on a fire board, which would handle budget decisions and equipment purchases and things like that.”

“We’ve been working on gathering support the last couple of years,” he said. “Now we’re at the point maybe we can create the district and move forward.”

“The (Hoisington City) Council is very supportive of the fire departments and the services they provide, but ultimately the decisions regarding the departments are made by the (city fire) chief and city council,” Mitchell said. “If I were living in a township, I’d be more comfortable having a voice on how the department is run. That’s what we’re trying to create. Part of the selling point is being fairer in representation and cost. Everyone in the district would pay the same levy.”

Under the current structure, each entity pays Hoisington, with that funding coming from individual mill levies. What each pays is determined using a formula that includes the number of fire runs made in the area, as well as the assessed valuation of the taxing entity and its population.

With a joint fire district, the district would collect a levy that would be a uniform amount across the district, which for some may be a lower levy than they’re paying now.

The city of Hoisington has maintained two separate fire funds over the years, Mitchell said, one for operation and one for equipment. Under the proposal, the city would transfer all the existing funding to the new fire district.

“We’d not take the funds and sweep it,” Mitchell said.

The city would also lease the existing station to the district for a period.

“We have another fire district in Barton County, Fire District 1, which most people still Claflin Fire,” Mitchell said. “It’s been a fire district since the 1950s. They’ve had tremendous success with that structure.”

 

Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
http://www.ksffa.com
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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