Cascade Locks forms public safety task force

December 17, 2011

CASCADE LOCKS - A new Public Safety Task Force is being formed to help City Hall determine the direction the community wants in reorganizing its fire and emergency services department.

In approving the task force timeline and job description last week, the only real debate in City Council was over the ad hoc group's size, which will be 15 members. Council Member Jeff Helfrich suggested five or seven members, but the rest of the body wanted more members to increase the amount of task force input, and Helfrich joined the unanimous vote to set it at 15.

The task force will be appointed after applicants are interviewed during the first week of January.

The first task force meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 9.

The task meetings will be open to the public, and community members will be invited to take part.

"You won't have to be a task force member to have a voice," Council Member Gail Lewis said.

"There is a disconnect between what we are doing and what we know we can pay for," interim city administrator Paul Koch told the council last week.

He said the upcoming process is similar to the one recently employed to select and appoint four new council members: throw a broad net asking applications, and then interview everyone who qualifies.

The task force was approved just as the fire and emergency department has gradually revived after a dysfunctional summer and early fall. At least six new volunteers have signed on and are undergoing training, and rejoining the department are 12 volunteers. Most of the volunteers had resigned the department in July and August, after the dismissal of former fire chief Jeff Pricher and a vote of no confidence against acting chief Jess Zerfing, who was appointed to the volunteer position by former Mayor George Fischer and the previous council.

Zerfing and Koch are both working with Hood River Fire Chief Devon Wells on reorganizing and restaffing the volunteer department. Wells, who is on a temporary consulting contract, has notified the city that he plans to bring revisions to his original reorganization proposal, presented in early November.

The task force will be charged with completing its work by March 31, in time for the start of the city budget process. Periodic status reports may also be requested by the City Council.

The task force recommendations can be dovetailed to the overall budget plan, according to Koch.

The task force will work with staff, representatives of the Oregon Fire Chiefs Association, CIS Insurance and the Oregon Special Districts Association and others in completing its work. It is also anticipated that this task force will hold several community meetings and that all of the meetings of this Task Force be open to the public.

Interested citizens will be required to make application to serve, on a city approved form, be interviewed by the City Council and then appointed to a position on the task force.

The task force will carry out the following duties in successfully completing its assignment.

Hold community meetings to get citizen and community suggestions and ideas about desired service level, method of payment and organizational method to deliver the service.

In collaboration with neighboring departments research the potential savings, approaches and benefits to the community of a regional approach to the delivery of fire and life safety services.

Look into the possibility of creating a new fire district for the community or contracting out for the service.

Research the potential for a two-state approach that would link Cascade Locks with its Washington neighbors in a new sub-regional fire and life safety funding approach and operations. Identify where state law and or policy changes would facilitate the provision of this service in a more cost-effective manner.

Develop a plan for long-term implementation to recommend to City Council during the 2012-13 budget process.

Look at all other ideas and options to enhance the delivery of emergency services in the community.

At Lewis' urging, council agreed that the task force will consider several service options:

the cost of a volunteer fire service only

the cost for both fire and ambulance (basic life support) as volunteer-only

The costs for fire and advanced life support services on a volunteer-only basis

The costs for a paid staff fire and ambulance service

nOther options and variations as might be determined by the task force

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