Douglas County Commission to consider proposal to consolidate township fire departments
photo by: Chris Conde
Several rural fire departments in Douglas County are proposing a plan to consolidate into a single county fire district to streamline their operations.
Mike Baxter, chief of the Wakarusa Township Fire Department, told the Journal-World Tuesday that the Clinton Township, Eudora Township, Kanwaka Township and Wakarusa Township fire departments proposed the plan to the county to make them all more efficient and effective. He said it would allow all four to make sure they are operating in the same manner and provide the same equipment, training and resources to volunteer firefighters.
“The unification of services provides a standardization for the fire departments,” he said. “That standardization brings increased safety to the volunteer firefighters and enhancement of services to the community.”
The County Commission will consider authorizing the initial step of the plan during its meeting on Wednesday. County staff is expected to present the plan during a work session prior to the commission’s regular meeting.
The plan includes consolidating the four township fire departments into a new county fire district to be known as Fire District No. 6. Later, the plan calls for merging the new fire district with the county’s Fire District No. 1, which serves the Lecompton Township, and Fire District No. 4, which serves the northern part of Marion Township.
The township fire departments are currently independent from the county government, but consolidating and forming the fire district would bring them under the county’s umbrella, Baxter said. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said via email that county staff supports their plan.
“The county has always maintained a close relationship with townships and fire districts,” Plinsky said. “If they are interested in consolidation, the county is supportive of assisting and being helpful in this process.”
When fully consolidated, the newly created fire district would cover a majority of the rural parts of the county, except the areas already covered by the county’s Fire District No. 2, which serves the Palmyra Township, and Fire District No. 3, which serves the the Willow Springs Township. Palmyra Township and Willow Springs Township are in the southeast and south-central parts of the county, respectively.
Additionally, the southern portion of Marion Township, in the southwest corner of the county, is served by an Osage County fire district, and Grant Township, located north of Lawrence, has contracted fire services through Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical.
If approved, Fire District No. 6 would be funded by a new county taxing district for the residents who live within its coverage area. Plinsky said the new district would bring in about the same amount of revenue that the townships currently take in to fund their fire departments. Plinsky said residents’ township taxes would go down if Fire District No. 6 were approved, but it’s unclear how residents’ overall tax amounts would be affected.
On Wednesday, the commissioners will consider a resolution consolidating the township fire departments. If approved, the resolution will be published for three weeks. Then the County Commission will hold a public hearing, and it will consider final approval in early April. The county then expects to consider the fire district merger later that month, following the same public process.
In other business, the commissioners will consider issuing a conditional use permit for truck storage at 1462 N. 1700 Road, which would be used by Honey Bee Septic. The property is just outside the city limits surrounding the North Lawrence neighborhood, located northeast of the North Fourth Street and North Street intersection.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission voted on the request twice, and the vote was split 5-5 both times, meaning the plans were forwarded to the County Commission without a recommendation for approval or denial.
The County Commission will meet at 4 and 5:30 p.m. for its work session and regular meeting, respectively, Wednesday at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Full agendas are available online at douglascountyks.org.
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