DALLAS — The Dallas City Council signaled consolidating fire service with Sheridan, West Valley, and Southwest Polk is no longer the path it wants to take.
On June 3, the council rejected moving forward with a feasibility study evaluating the four-way merger, and could eliminate consolidation as a goal in the “road map” it approved jointly with the districts in October 2018.
The road map had outlined steps toward merging operations and administration with inter-governmental agreements, eventually leading to full consolidation that would require a vote of citizens in each jurisdiction. The city received a letter from the boards of the three fire districts in May asking the city to “fully join us in a conversation about a consolidated, regional fire district.”
“The directors of these districts believe that the city of Dallas is an important and strategic partner in such a consolidation and formation of a regional fire & EMS service delivery system,” the letter read.
During a discussion of the letter, Council President Jennie Rummell asked the council to reconsider the feasibility study. The city put out a request for proposals for the study for in March. The Matrix Consulting Group responded, but the council decided not to award the bid.
“This council is extremely divided on our path forward as far as going with other districts around us or staying alone,” Rummell said. “The main thing that I’ve heard from everybody is that we don’t have enough information. I think we owe it to ourselves as a council and the people we represent to get that information as a way forward.”
She said Matrix would provide that direction. The proposal provided to the city would cost $37,000 with a possible price increase because of elapsed time. The city would pay for it on its own.
Councilor Kelly Gabliks, who had supported a feasibility study in the past, said she now didn’t believe merging with Sheridan, West Valley and Southwest is the best course. She said the city should follow Fire Chief Todd Brumfield’s recommendation to wait until after the three districts merged before contemplating joining.
“We are not on the same page, and everyone who has come to talk to us has said that if the districts aren’t on the same page, then there is no use in going forward,” Gabliks said. “We have six paid people (in the fire department). Our response time has come way down. We let them go forth, make their own path … and if they are successful, at some point down the road, if it makes sense for us, we could join them.”
In the meantime, she said Dallas should resume merger talks with Polk Fire District No. 1.
Councilor Bill Hahn agreed, saying he didn’t see how joining with Sheridan and West Valley would improve response time in Dallas.
“That’s another 15 minutes,” he said. “We are not gaining anything by going in that direction.”
Rummell said that the goal of the merger is hiring more firefighters to be stationed throughout the district, not calling them in from farther away.
“It’s a matter of the finances of having boots on the ground that we would be able to hire,” she said. “Yeah, they would be responding, but it wouldn’t be that we would call them to come put out a fire (in Dallas).”
Rummell made a motion to move forward with the study, but it failed 3-5.
City Manager Greg Ellis said the council’s vote amounted to a response to the districts’ letter, but he encouraged the city to continue discussions about streamlining operations through partnerships short of a merger.
“I don’t see any problem with us at this point continuing to listen, but at this point, I think we don’t have our eggs in that basket anymore,” Gabliks said.
City Attorney Lane Shetterly reminded the council it had a resolution supporting the road map on the books.
“We have a resolution out there, but we are not acting on it,” he said.
The council will review and possibly edit the road map resolution at the future meeting.