DALLAS — Negotiations between Falls City and Southwestern Polk Rural Fire Protection District seem to be at square one after a meeting Thursday between officials of both entities.
The contract establishing a partnership between Falls City and Southwest regarding fire services expired in September and had been extended until the end of November.
The Southwest board extended it again until the first of the year after no progress was made at Thursday’s meeting.
Board members said matters were complicated by Falls City seeking a third-party, instead of Southwest, to offer training to the city’s firefighters.
Falls City Acting City Manager Terry Ungricht said the city has a contract with Target Solutions to provide training and ensure that the fire department complies with regulations. The city will pay $3,065 for the contract.
“From what I understood, the board was concerned about us being a liability,” Ungricht said. “We’ve taken care or that. We’ve gotten training. We’ve got outside assessment of the station.”
He added that if Southwest Polk has additional procedures for response to incidents in its district, it would need to provide additional training.
Southwest Chief Fred Hertel said while Target Solutions provides training, it doesn’t solve other concerns the district has.
“Target solutions is just training, it tracks your training. It doesn’t provide you with policies. It doesn’t provide you with how you enact those policies,” Hertel said. “It doesn’t provide you operational guidelines. It doesn’t do any of that. All it does is provide you with training. … My fear is that we have a group of people who are trained to operate one way in a certain geographical area and another way to operate in a different geographical area. How are they going to keep track of that?”
Bob Davis, Southwest board member, said Falls City seeking third-party help pushes them further apart on a new agreement.
“You have taken steps to make that negotiation harder because now you’ve got another entity in here,” Davis said.
Ungricht said he didn’t believe he had a choice because the draft contract had Falls City paying $36,000 for Southwest’s administrative services, but only receiving about $27,000 for Falls City firefighters assisting on incidents in the district. He said the city can’t afford that and was disappointed that the two sides couldn’t continue the partnership they’ve had for decades instead of what he feels is a Southwest attempt to take over Falls City’s department.
“It was put to me that we would contract with Southwest to run all of our station operations. That is what I heard at that (negotiation) meeting. I did not record it or take minutes, but that’s what I heard,” Ungricht said. “You were going to rent the station for $1. We were going to pay you $36,000, and it wouldn’t be our department, it would be Southwest.”
Falls City City Councilor Tony Meier, who has attended negotiations, said he understood the discussion the same way.
Rod Watson, Southwest board member, said that was never the case and financial negotiations are still on the table.
“I would like to think it’s not a takeover. Falls City would still be its own department, and the only purpose we have is to help you stay trained, reporting, everything that needs to take place so none of us are in trouble,” Watson said. “I’m hoping that the board can, in the next 30 days, we can get together and see what the bottom dollar is, and we can access things that Falls City’s going to pay for out there and the things that Southwest is going to pay for out there.”