According to Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw, “a fuse has been lit” to solve the ongoing problems with fire and emergency medical services.
A major part of his still-developing plan entails seeking a bond measure in the Nov. 5 election this year, when Ketchum voters will be asked to approve borrowing of millions of dollars to fund construction of a new public safety facility and purchase of equipment.
Bradshaw announced the November election date during a negotiating session with the Ketchum Professional Firefighters Local 4758 on Friday morning. The amount of the bond measure has not been announced, and the City Council will have to send the measure to voters.
The City Council will hold a public workshop on fire and emergency medical services at 4 p.m. today, April 17, at Ketchum City Hall.
Bradshaw is attempting to craft this plan on an expedited timeline, thanks to the impending cancellation of the city’s $325,000 contract with the Ketchum Rural Fire Protection District. The district’s board of commissioners voted in March to cancel its contract with Ketchum, triggering a 90-day termination period for Ketchum to create a new contract, or the Fire District could contract with the city of Sun Valley.
That would amount to a loss of $325,000 to Ketchum’s budget and likely four full-time firefighter positions, out of a staff of 11 full-time professionals. It could also mean a potential downgrade of the city’s ISO rating for fire insurance, though the city could take measures to prevent that from happening.
Facing a June 15 deadline, Bradshaw has requested that the Fire District board grant an extension to Sept. 30. The Fire District board met Tuesday afternoon and two commissioners expressed their support for providing the contract to the city of Sun Valley. They voted 3-0 to direct their attorney to begin drafting a contract with Sun Valley. That contract will have to be approved at a future meeting.
Thus, the efforts to improve and possibly consolidate fire and emergency medical services in the northern Wood River Valley have sprawled over multiple jurisdictions, each with its own process—and meetings.
Ketchum city administration is attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the union. Friday’s negotiation was the second session, and a third has been scheduled for April 26.
The City Council on Monday night listened to a presentation from interim Fire Chief Tom Bowman, who unveiled a proposal for “Version 2.0” of the Ketchum Fire Department. Bowman proposed that the city purchase a new vehicle in the next 90-120 days that could store ladders, pump water and provide an aerial platform. That would upgrade a fleet that includes an outdated aerial tower purchased jointly by Ketchum and Sun Valley in 1988.
The city of Sun Valley acquired a new aerial tower six years ago, but Ketchum did not agree to share the $112,000 annual lease payment for that purchase.
Bowman said the city should establish a capital replacement fund for fire and EMS, and develop a line item in the budget to pay for shift-assist hours from paid-on-call volunteers. He said the department could improve training, as well as add another assistant chief position.
He also discussed three possibilities for merging fire and emergency medical services in the north valley. One is using a joint-powers agreement similar to the Mountain Rides Transportation Authority, but he said that would yield too many conflicts over funding and control. He said an amended contract for services with the city of Sun Valley was another possibility, provided it had a different oversight and management structure than one the Ketchum City Council rejected last month.
The third option is for the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley to be annexed into the Ketchum Rural Fire District, Bowman said. Fire District commissioners said that was not a viable short-term option.
The council will discuss those ideas again at Wednesday’s workshop.
The Fire District commissioners held their own meeting Tuesday afternoon. The Sun Valley City Council and the Blaine County Ambulance District will undoubtedly have their own meetings, as well.
In these myriad meetings, Bradshaw has emerged as a central information facilitator, telling each side what the other wants or doesn’t want, to the best of his knowledge.
Friday’s negotiation offered an example. With Ketchum Rural Commissioner Jed Gray sitting in the audience, Bradshaw pressed the union for concessions on scheduling, because it was what the Fire District and the city of Sun Valley wanted. Gray didn’t speak at the session, but signaled his approval of some of the administration’s statements using hand gestures.
“All firefighter scheduling shall be at the discretion of the fire chief with consultation by the mayor,” Bradshaw said, citing proposed language for the collective bargaining agreement. “A fire chief is wholly qualified to set a schedule that is best for the town. It makes you vulnerable but it sends a very strong message.”
Ricky Walsh, negotiating for the union on behalf of the International Association of Fire Fighters, asked about the intended parties for that message.
“To who?” Walsh asked. “It feels like we’re negotiating with other parties.”
At Monday’s meeting, Ketchum City Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton broached the idea of bringing each entity into a room, discussing the three reports that have been done on the Ketchum Fire Department in the past 15 years and developing a long-term vision and action plan.
“The main thing that we need to do is have a little humility as a city,” Hamilton said. “How do we not repeat this in the future? Nobody really wants to partner with us because we are in such a weak position. My concern is that we’re going to do a bunch of stuff that is stop-gap.”
Bradshaw said he didn’t want the process to take too long.
“If we go through the route that is more time-consuming, we will definitely lose that $325,000,” he said. “We’ve seen three reports done and nothing happen.”
John Rathfon, president of Local 4758, said as of Tuesday morning the city had not provided a detailed proposal on scheduling changes. He objected to comments that the collective bargaining agreement has been restrictive or burdensome, and said he was willing to discuss it with anyone who asks.
“We’re allowed to negotiate wages and working conditions,” Rathfon said. “There are no specifics as to what the issue is [with scheduling]. We didn’t know there was a problem. I know the CBA is not stopping anything. If somebody can show me that, I’m all for fixing it.”