City, township to discuss fire merger
During the next several months, two area fire chiefs will investigate whether a merger of their departments is feasible.
At Monday night's Tonganoxie City Council meeting, council members, on a 4-0 vote, agreed that city Fire Chief Dave Bennett can look into the possibility of consolidating his department with Stranger Township Fire Department. Council member Kathy Graveman was absent from the meeting.
¢ Stranger Township is bounded by Dempsey Road on the north and by Hemphill Road on the south.
¢ On the east, it's generally bounded by 171st Street north of U.S. Highway 24-40 and by 174th Street south of the highway.
¢ On the west, it's generally bounded by 211th Street north of the highway and by 214th Street south of the highway.
Among issues that Bennett and Stranger Fire Chief Ben Hayes will explore are:
- Financial ramifications.
- Any effect on insurance ratings for the city or township.
- The effect on manpower.
"These are just a few of the issues that we would like to explore for six months to a year," Bennett told council members.
The council agreed that Bennett and Hayes could work with city attorney Mike Kelly, if necessary, on legal questions surrounding the idea.
While Mayor Dave Taylor had no quarrel with exploring options, he did say he was concerned that Tonganoxie would lose its fire department.
"I want to make sure that we have our own fire department," the mayor said. "I feel that anyone who is going to come to our city and do business here -- I feel it's a big plus for us."
"We're looking at entering into an agreement under consolidation that this will remain a Tonganoxie city station, that that will remain a Stranger Township station," Bennett said.
But city council member Ron Cranor said he had other, yet related concerns.
"Will the city of Tonganoxie lose their ability to appoint their own fire chief, to appoint their own employees?" Cranor asked.
"We don't know," Bennett said.
"That's why we're asking to look into it. I can't give you specific answers when I've come up here twice asking you to explore this."
And while Bennett said the city's department is strong and has no problems, he doesn't want to shut the door to something that might further strengthen it.
"I'm never going to stand still and take a mid-level bureaucratic attitude of 'if it's not broke, don't fix it,'" he said.
Hayes said he initially approached Bennett -- after another township fire department had approached him about forming a partnership. Discussions with Tonganoxie seem logical, Hayes said, because of the proximity of the two departments and because his department is exploring the possibility of constructing a new fire station north of U.S. Highway 24-40, which the city also is considering.
"It seemed a little silly to me to build two fire stations that close to one another," Hayes said.
City council members asked that Bennett provide quarterly updates on how discussions are progressing on the issue.