Breaks put on Dallas, Sheridan fire districts

DALLAS — Dallas Fire & EMS, Southwest Polk Rural Fire District and Sheridan Fire District have hit a speed bump on the journey to a joint future.

The three entities brought a memorandum of understanding to the Dallas City Council on March 19 outlining three steps in a consolidation process. That starts with an administrative services contract under which Dallas would provide management services to Sheridan Fire, like the contract Dallas has with Southwest Polk.

The second step would be to consolidate management of all departments. The final phase is to ask voters to approve a new fire district encompassing all three departments with its own taxing base.

“The purpose of the three-point direction was to get all three of the entities on the same page for where we could go, it wasn’t to outline the exact steps we would make,” Dallas Fire Chief Fred Hertel said.

The council declined a vote on the MOU, saying the document outlined more than they asked for when they directed Hertel to explore consolidation.

Monday, Hertel and Sheridan Fire Chief Jim Stearns brought the results of a consolidation feasibility study to the city’s Administration Committee in hopes it would provide the councilors the information they wanted.

Hertel said the biggest benefit for all three departments is financial stability. He said they struggle to meet service obligations with budgets and mostly volunteer staff.

Stearns added that he’s under contract with Sheridan until July. The city needs a solution to department management before he leaves.

“We have until April 7 to determine if we need to find a new direction,” he said.

Councilor Jackie Lawson said she would prefer that the council not approve the MOU at once, but tackle each step separately.

“That MOU went further than what we were ready to be committed to,” she said. “First step, absolutely, let’s chat about that. I’m totally comfortable with that.”

Hertel asked the committee to recommend to the council that it reconsider the MOU in light of information in the feasibility study — and that the city can back out at any time.

“Contracts are a temporary, short-term fix to get you to a long-term solution, and to see if things work,” he said. “This might be our future goal. ... And each entity has the ability to opt in or opt out, so to speak, along the way.”

The council will consider it at its Monday meeting.

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