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TVF&R contract to come before council

Public safety — Approval could mean an additional 12 firefighters beginning in July

Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue vehicles have appeared in Newberg from time to time over the past year as they were on loan while some of Newberg’s equipment was down. Following a City Council vote next month, they could become a fixture in the city as a contract for TVF&R service in Newberg is under consideration.

At the Feb. 16 Newberg City Club meeting, City Manager Pro Tem Steve Rhodes laid out the need for a change in how the city provides fire service to citizens and noted several reasons why a contract with TVF&R could offer a solution.

A sort of “discovery” period has been underway since several council discussions last fall, during which TVF&R and the city have shared information and determined how the contract would be carried out.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - A City Council vote March 7 will determine whether Newberg enters into a contract with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue to bolster the city's fire service capabilities.

Financing through the city’s general fund is limited as the city is restricted by Measures 5 and 50 on how much property taxes can be raised each year. That has led to the need for fire service outpacing the ability to fund it.

“Because of these limitations there’s been no additional staffing since 2006 in the fire department,” Rhodes said. “Yet there has been a 42 percent increase in demands for service.”

During the past decade Newberg’s population has grown 11 percent, Rhodes explained, and is projected to grow another 23 percent during the coming four years.

“Our projections show the inability to provide additional funding to increase the staffing levels in the fire department,” he said.

Besides the rising disparity between need and ability, the Newberg Fire Department is also looking to update some of its equipment, particularly two ambulances and a ladder truck.

“Those needs are facing us, we’re actually kind of behind schedule in replacing those,” Rhodes said.

Because of the funding limitations it’s difficult for the city to meet fire needs in-house, but TVF&R’s size means it can do more with less.

“When we have our overhead costs and everything, the smaller the organization the more it costs per person to be able to fund that. With their ability to spread that cost they can provide staffing levels that are much better than ours at much less cost than what it would cost us,” Rhodes said.

If a contract were approved, come July 1 there would be 12 additional firefighters from TVF&R coming to Newberg to meet the deficiencies, Rhodes said. If the NFD were to add 12 firefighters on its own, during the first year that would cost the city roughly $1.2 million. With TVF&R providing the personnel, that cost drops to about $600,000, Rhodes said, meaning the contract would cut costs for the city in half.

There would also be a savings in equipment costs, as TVF&R would bring its own gear to Newberg saving an estimated $1.5 million the city would otherwise shell out on new ambulances and a ladder truck.

The idea would be to test how it works for the agency to offer service in Newberg, and potentially down the road to make that a permanent annexation of the local fire department.

The plan would consist of a two-year contract between Newberg and TVF&R and if the council is satisfied with the service at the end of that period the issue would go to the voters. If the issue is voted down, Newberg would return to a local provision of service just through the NFD.

“We’re still in the process of negotiating the language, including the agreement that would put this into place,” Rhodes said, adding that details of the contract remain in flux.

The proposed contract previously came before the City Council in November, when TVF&R officials presented some of the particulars of how a contract would work.

TVF&R Fire Chief Mike Duyck and Deputy Chief Dustin Morrow addressed some of the more frequent concerns that are voiced during this process, noting that a TVF&R annexation does not mean Metro or the Department of Environmental Quality would automatically expand into Newberg, that volunteer firefighters are an integral part of the TVF&R model despite oft-repeated stories to the contrary, and that the agency would be dedicated to continuing and improving the popular NFD community events such as pancake breakfast and Toy and Joy.

“The thing that I would like to see if we were invited to be a part of Newberg, is how can we help your community events be as good or even better …,” Duyck said.

TVF&R would also keep all NFD employees, Morrow said, including the fire chief, adding that “they all work within their function or something better.”

Consideration of the contract is tentatively scheduled to come before the council March 7.