Thursday, February 27, 2020

Grandview Aldermen to Consider Potential Fire District Consolidation

by Mary Wilson

The City of Grandview, along with the Mount Pleasant Fire Protection District, the South Metro Fire Protection District, the West Peculiar Fire Protection District and the Western Cass Fire Protection District, jointly participated in a study with the City of Belton in 2018 to determine if a potential consolidation of fire services is feasible. Belton, with joint participation from the other five communities, served as the coordinating agency for the proposal.

The departments in Cass County initially prompted the discussion among themselves after years of conversation regarding combining forces into one fire district. Grandview became a part of those discussions in early 2018, and Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) was engaged to conduct a study on the feasibility of consolidating the six departments.

The final report was completed in 2019, and on Tuesday, February 18, Sheldon Gilbert, CEO of ESCI, and John Stouffer, ESCI’s regional manager who served as the study’s project manager, met with the Grandview Board of Aldermen to discuss the results and provide a recommendation for city leadership to take into consideration.

“The main reason you look at regionalized efforts is because you want to see if there’s opportunity for reduction of redundancy, better efficiency, and you want to be able to manage your risk,” said Gilbert.  “Regionalization doesn’t happen quickly, and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all.”

Gilbert added that the primary motivation for a potential consolidation is not to save a substantial amount of money. Rather, the intent is to improve the quality and effectiveness of providing fire protection, emergency medical services (EMS), and other emergency services to the communities. As part of the study, ESCI conducted a detailed historical financial analysis of each of the fire departments and districts, including property tax levy rates and revenue, financial forecasts, and transport analysis.

ESCI presented five options to four of the six districts and departments (it was determined that Mount Pleasant and Western Cass would be best suited to maintain operation as they are currently): maintain status quo, without making any changes to current operation; form an Interlocal Cooperation Agreement (ICA), which includes administrative, functional and operational collaboration; create a new fire protection district; consolidate city departments and fire districts; or expand (annex) a current fire district boundary.

“Ultimately ESCI recommends annexation by a current fire protection district,” said Gilbert. “ESCI believes that South Metro FPD is in the best position for extending its boundaries through annexation of the other jurisdictions. However, we see this as a ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach to consolidation. Even in the best-planned collaborative efforts, unforeseen issues may arise, errors can be made, and alternative paths will be identified.”

If ESCI’s recommendation is ultimately approved by the four communities, and not necessarily at the same time, eventually this could mean a new fire district including the cities of Grandview, Belton, Raymore and Peculiar. The South Metro name would be changed, and the new district would take on a new identity. ESCI recommends the district be organized into Life Safety, Training and Safety, Support Services and Emergency Operations divisions.

“ESCI is confident that implementation of a consolidated fire district is both feasible and in the best interest of the respective communities in the study,” said Gilbert. “If a decision is made to move forward with consolidation, it will require a considerable amount of planning and compromise to achieve success. Regionalization is sometimes the right thing, but it’s never the easy thing.”

The City of Grandview received, as part of the study, a detailed analysis on the fire department’s best practices, financial standings and projections, and more, and will work to determine what steps they can begin taking to ensure that procedures and policies are in place for a successful department.

“I think that’s something that the Board of Aldermen is going to want to see first,” said Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones. “We need to find our low-hanging fruit and tackle those items, and improve upon those, before we do anything else.”

The report itself has, according to Gilbert, a lot of information and a lot of moving parts. As far as Grandview is concerned, city staff will go through the study and make a recommendation to the Board of Aldermen regarding next steps, which may or may not include regionalization and consolidation into an agreed-upon fire district.

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