Territorial agreement proposal taking shape

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 | 6:21 p.m. CST; updated 6:32 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 10, 2008

COLUMBIA — A new version of the city’s fire service territorial agreement with the Boone County Fire Protection District is beginning to take shape.

After two and a half months of meeting on the subject, City Manager Bill Watkins drafted talking points on a new territorial agreement, which were sent to the city and the Fire Protection District officials Tuesday afternoon.

"We're getting to the point where we needed to get something on paper," Watkins said at a Wednesday morning meeting between officials from the city and the fire district.

The proposal, which would be a five-year agreement, calls for the city to pay the fire district $400,000 annually for automatic aid. The city would also compensate the fire district for any tax revenue it loses when areas voluntarily annex into the city.

As in the previous agreement, Watkins proposed that the fire district would not oppose voluntary annexation. Both entities would be barred from opposing the other’s tax levies.

If included in a new agreement, Watkins’ points would require regular joint training between the Columbia Fire Department and the fire district.

Since 1994, the city and fire district have operated under the territorial agreement. The city pays the fire district for coverage of areas annexed after 1994, while the fire district pays the city for coverage of small parts of the county.

As the annexed land has become more developed, the city’s payments to the fire district, which are based on assessed valuation, have increased 535 percent since 1994, according to documents provided to the City Council. The council notified the fire district in June that it would seek to renegotiate the agreement, which Watkins said the city can no longer afford.

Chiefs from both departments largely approved of Watkins’ points.

"Philosophically, we're on the same page," fire district interim Chief Scott Olsen said. "I think this is almost a done deal.”

But the two chiefs said they would like to see an agreement with less rigid operational guidelines, citing the current agreement’s hard territory line.

"I think the operational things don't belong in here," Columbia Fire Department Chief Bill Markgraf said. "Please don’t tie our hands by mandating things that are operational.”

Fire District Deputy Chief Jeff Scott, who was involved in drawing the territorial lines in the original agreement, said in an interview the new agreement needs to be flexible.

“The operational side of it needs to be flexible so we can alter response patterns based on changes in roads, or maybe a bridge goes out,” Scott said.

Under Watkins’ proposal, fire chiefs of the two departments would also meet periodically to discuss response data and update those response patterns.

Watkins pushed for a standardized system for both departments to report response data. That data would be released in a “joint annual report to the residents of both jurisdictions,” Watkins writes.

“We need a system that is cross-departmental,” Watkins said.

Fire district board member Dave Griggs suggested at the meeting that the data be periodically reported to the council.

Although a new agreement appears to be on the horizon, a formal draft has yet to be seen. Once a draft is agreed upon, it would still need to be voted on by both the City Council and the fire district board of directors.

Officials agreed to meet at the end of December to review a draft of the new agreement.

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