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Troutdale approves controversial fire contract

Although used to describe the situation for Troutdale residents who are doubly covered by Fire District 14, a vicious circle was an accurate description of the Gresham fire contract discussion at the Troutdale City Council April 14 meeting.

The council largely acknowledged they intended to approve the new 10-year Intergovernmental Agreement with Gresham for fire services, but the discussion was contentious at best with respect to the desired contract details and implementation.

As it stands, the negotiated agreement would increase costs for Troutdale residents to $1.44 per $1,000 of assessed value in the first year, $1.56 in the second and a maximum of 4.5 percent each year thereafter.

The continuing issue was that this contract is for second-tier services — meaning response times are longer than the national standard of four minutes.

“That’s a bit of a bitter pill to swallow, and I acknowledge that,” said City Manager Craig Ward.

This pill wasn’t just for Troutdale, but Fairview and Wood Village as well, which are part of the three-city IGA. Troutdale’s decision to approve the contract was being watched, literally, by the other cities.

Fairview Mayor Ted Tosterud contacted Mayor Doug Daoust near the end of the nearly four hour meeting to inform the council Fairview was carefully watching the outcome of the discussion in Troutdale.

Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis also was watching the meeting, and ended up addressing the council via speaker phone.

“Our Gresham residents are paying considerably more as well,” Bemis said. “If it makes sense for you to have your own department, I say have your own department. Just give us the time we need to change what we need to do.”

The contract contains a two-year opt out provision.

The Troutdale council considered delaying a vote on the agreement until it next meeting, which would have given city staff an opportunity to study components of the contract.

The primary concern was if the opt-out provision could be shortened to a year — just in case Troutdale decides to move forward with the creation of its own fire department and doesn’t want to wait two years to implement the force. That idea was answered quickly during the meeting with a resounding “no.”

“We need — operationally — two years,” Bemis said.

Those two years from the time Troutdale gave notice would be used to determine future needs for Gresham’s fire department. This includes how many staff members to hire to replace retirees and budgeting for training classes.

Alternative plan

The concept of Troutdale’s own fire department has been tossed around for years. It was proposed again at the March 17 council meeting.

“We’re getting second chair service. We’re below the national rating service. Not to say that’s Gresham’s fault, it started out we’re supposed to get the same service 20 years ago,” said Councilor Glenn White, who proposed the alternative department in March with Councilor Larry Morgan and former firefighter Dave Flood.

“The contract eroded over time. I think the Dave Flood proposal became very eye opening.”

Daoust said it was clear the council wanted to look into the possibility of starting its own department. But with the contract expiring July 1 — and no extension granted by Gresham to continue negotiations as requested by Ward — the council was “over a barrel” and he didn’t want to “hold up the train” as Fairview and Wood Village also were considering the contract this week.

“I really think this council will not drop the ball (in pursuing a fire department),” Daoust said. “I don’t think we’re going let this thing languish.”

With councilors adamant that with more time they could make a better decision, both Bemis and Gresham Fire Division Chief Scott Lewis said the contract deadline was not a surprise, and the council should have started its consideration earlier.

“Two years ago we all knew this contract was coming up,” Bemis said. “If you’re not in, we need to move forward.”

Ultimately, the council voted 4-3 to approve the contract.

“I think we’d be sending a poor message if we were to pull back at this point,” Councilor Eric Anderson said. “I think it would do more harm than good.”

But Daoust remained adamant that the council will begin, soon, discussing and exploring the option of starting Troutdale’s own fire department.

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