COLUMBIA — City officials and representatives of the Boone County Fire Protection District began talks Monday to renegotiate the nearly 15-year-old fire service territorial agreement.
City Manager Bill Watkins did most of the talking, outlining the city's position on the matter. "One of the pieces I feel pretty strong about (is) we've got to have a city presence at every call within city limits," Watkins said.
Since 1994, newly annexed pieces of the city are solely covered by the fire district's volunteer firefighters.
The meeting between representatives of the Columbia Fire Department, the city of Columbia, Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Union Local 1055 and the fire district was the first in a series of meetings on the issue expected to continue until January.
The territorial agreement was decided in 1994 with very little citizen input. It was created to reduce duplicate fire services and quell opposition to city annexation by paying the fire district to cover recently annexed land.
City Council notified the fire district in June that the agreement in its current form would be canceled, prompting the new negotiations. City payments to the fire district have increased from around $1,000 in 1995 to about $550,000 in 2007.
City payments to the fire district have increased by about $540,000 over the last 12 years because the assessed value of annexed land, which is used to determine how much the city pays the fire district, went up by more than $92 million.
"We cannot continue to live with that," Watkins said, referring to the increasing payments to the fire district.
Fire district Chief Steve Paulsell said later that "the bread and butter stuff is geographic." He went on to say that the agreement needs to continue to be based on geography.
Watkins also said he wants a change in the length of the agreement. A short-term agreement of five years would be more appropriate than another 15-year agreement, the city manager said.
The organizations will continue to meet periodically to work out details of the agreement by January.