Rural fire board expected to share details of proposed service contract at Tuesday meeting

by HEIDI DESCH
Editor | November 13, 2020 11:20 AM

The Whitefish Fire Service Area rural board expects to announce details of a proposed new fire service contract with the City of Whitefish during its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The rural board sent out a letter this week to residents of the fire service area saying it would provide details regarding the contract during the meeting. The board meets at 6:30 p.m. at the fire hall on Hodgson Road.

The board says it is near a contract that it may be willing to sign, but did not provide details on what the contract entails noting that would only be provided at the meeting.

“When an agreement is reached and a contract is signed, WFSA will continue to have all fire services contracted with the City of Whitefish for the next several years,” the letter says.

Since spring, the rural board and the city have been negotiating a new contract for fire service for the rural area outside Whitefish city limits. The two parties at the end of June signed a document signaling their intent to negotiate a new contact for a minimum of a two-year term.

The board says once details of the contract are explained at the meeting it intends to allow for a reasonable time for comments and discussion. Comments will also be taken by email through Nov. 24 at WFSAboard@yahoo.com. A copy of the proposed contact information can also be obtained by sending an email to that address following the meeting.

“Please recognize that a proposed contract may not be everything each resident wants,” the board says. “It will be what the [rural] board and the City of Whitefish believe each can operate with and mutually benefit from,” the letter says. “The core of this agreement is to perpetuate the current fire service coverage for a price that the City of Whitefish can property function with and the WFSA can afford to pay.”

In March, the city sent a proposal to the rural board in negotiating a new contract seeking an increase in the district’s payment schedule for fire service.

Then in May, the rural board sent out a letter to households in the district saying it was considering whether to renew its contract with the city or operate its own volunteer department. At the time the board appeared to favor creating its own department with the chief sticking point appearing to be that renewing the contract would mean an increase in the household rates for service.

Subsequently, dozens of residents of the rural fire district have shown up at several of the rural board’s meetings resoundingly asking that the contract with the city be renewed rather than moving to a volunteer department. Many homeowners have said they’d be willing to pay an increase in their fire fee to keep service with the Whitefish Fire Department.

Though the rural board has given little detail about negotiations or its plans for the future, some board members at previous meetings continued to show preference for setting up a volunteer fire department.

The letter asks attendees of the meeting to observe COVID-19 safety measures and to bring their own chair. The rural fire hall is located at 1345 Hodgson Road and agendas for meetings are posted on the window of the fire hall.