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County's Fire Boss Proposes Extending Service

Lewiston Morning Tribune

May 24, 2011

Idaho — Nez Perce County’s rural fire service would continue next year under a proposal submitted by Fire Chief Ron Hall.

One week after voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan to replace the county fire department with a fire district, commissioners appeared ready during budget meetings Monday to continue some sort of volunteer-type service in most of the county not within a taxing fire district.

“Lots of them want fire protection,” Hall said of county residents. “It’s just the way the election laws go now you have to vote for an unknown entity.”

Commissioners said they intended to discontinue regular service after this year if the fire district election passed, though Commissioner Doug Zenner said after the vote failed last week he’d like to continue volunteer fire service in some form.

Hall plans to retire when the fiscal year ends in September, and proposed continuing the fire department as a volunteer service beginning this fall. The department’s annual budget would drop to $16,800, a reduction of about $90,000 that includes Hall’s salary and benefits.

He told commissioners he would like to continue with the department as a volunteer.

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Hall said many of the people who voted against fire protection did so because of the unknown costs. The law only allows voters to cast ballots on the creation of a district, not what those districts will charge.

“They said no to an open end,” Hall told commissioners.

But proposed continued funding of any countywide department came amid opposition by Wheatland Fire Protection District Chief Bill Hobbs. Voters said last week they don’t want to pay for fire protection, Hobbs said.

Hobbs told commissioners all residents who are paying for fire protection with other departments are effectively paying twice because those residents also contribute to the county general fund that pays for the countywide fire department.

“We pay taxes for fire protection, and we then pay again for county fire protection,” said Hobbs, who is also a resident of the Wheatland district.

The department contracts with the state of Idaho to put out car fires on state highways, and Commissioner Zenner said putting out similar fires on county roads will save the costs of repairing those roads should a flaming car be allowed to burn to the ground.

“We still have a duty to make sure that it isn’t ruining our roads,” commission Chairman Michael Grow said.

Zenner said the department would continue to respond to wildland and car fires, and Grow said they would respond if a house was burning.

“If they have a fire, you call 911 someone’s going to respond,” Hall said. It will depend on the weather, time of year and distance to a fire that depends how quickly the county will respond.

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