‘We’re going to have to build these’: City of Lawrence and Douglas County leaders voice support for more Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical stations

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Lawrence City Commission and Douglas County Commission met in a joint session Monday, May 15, 2023. The two groups typically combine for a joint meeting once a year.

Leaders with the City of Lawrence and Douglas County indicated Monday that they see a need to add at least one more Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical station soon — but for now, though, they still have questions about what the best route to making that happen would be.

The Lawrence City Commission and Douglas County Commission met in a joint session Monday evening, which was focused on a set of options for expanding the agency. As the Journal-World reported, leaders with LDCFM are proposing adding two new stations and relocating one of its existing five stations in Lawrence to cover gaps in service that have emerged since the agency last expanded in 2006.

Fire Chief Rich Llewellyn told commissioners Monday a few ways those gaps have manifested, including that the agency’s annual incident count has nearly doubled since 2006 from nearly 9,000 that year to more than 15,500 in 2022. So far in 2023, fire medical analyst McKenzi Ezell added, the department has responded to about 6,000 incidents, good for a rate of roughly 44 calls a day.

But adding two new stations comes with a massive $52.5 million price tag just for one-time expenses like acquiring land and equipment and construction costs, with another $6.8 million in ongoing expenses to account for each year. Ezell told commissioners the estimated increase to the tax rate on assessed property values — or the mill levy — for the city under that scenario would be 3.32 mills. For the county, it would be 1.285 mills.

Nevertheless, leaders with both commissions said they saw a need for an expansion in the near future.

“There’s no doubt we’re going to do it at some point, the only question is when we’re going to do it,” City Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said. “We’re going to have to build these as we continue to go west and continue to go south, and I guess I’m in favor of moving that process forward.”

Others, like City Commissioner Amber Sellers, said the situation may not have reached “critical mass” quite yet, but it feels like it’s pretty close to getting there. And County Commissioner Karen Willey noted that while there’s likely going to be a significant cost associated with any level of expansion for the agency, taking no action despite the need wouldn’t necessarily end up being a “zero-cost” alternative.

If city and county leaders do elect to take action on the proposal moving forward, Ezell said the design phase and processes to acquire land and equipment for the new stations would be slated for 2024, and construction for the first new station would take place during 2025. Staffing the new stations would take 24 full-time employees each, LDCFM leaders said, but it’s not clear yet what the staffing plan would look like.

Some commissioners wondered whether an alternative scenario with just one expansion station may be worth having on the table moving forward. The group also discussed whether to consider another LDCFM proposal, putting an expansion on an upcoming ballot for voters to decide, but sentiments from city and county leaders seemed to lean away from taking that route.

The joint commission didn’t take any action Monday night, which is typical of its annual meeting as a combined group.


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