The Board of Fire Commissioners for University Place Fire Department will host two public forums to discuss the proposal to merge with Lakewood Fire Department. The meetings will be held on Tuesday, February 2nd and February 16th at 6 PM at Evergreen Primary, 7102 40th Street West.
A joint University Place and Lakewood Fire Department committee unanimously recommended a merger of the two departments after a year long study of regionalization options. The joint committee included the Fire Chiefs, Deputy Chiefs, and two members of the Board of Fire Commissioners from each department.
On Monday, January 25th, the Lakewood Fire Department Board of Fire Commissioners voted in favor of merging into the University Place Fire Department. University Place Fire Department’s Board has been briefed on the merger proposal and will consider it at the public forums.
Currently, the Lakewood and University Place Fire Departments partner or share services in several areas, including firefighter recruitment, testing and training, vehicle maintenance, special operations and emergency call receiving/dispatching.
Questions & Answers about University Place and Lakewood Fire Department Merger
Where did the recommendation for a merger originate?
In late 2008, Lakewood approached University Place about the possibility of partnering together for improved efficiency. The Commissioners of both departments supported the more in-depth discussions. An eight member Regionalization Committee consisting of 2 commissioners, and the fire chiefs and deputy chiefs from University Place and Lakewood was established. The committee was tasked with making a recommendation to the boards. Meeting since February 2009, the committee unanimously recommended the merger on December 9, 2009.
In July 2009, UPFD commissioned TriData, an emergency services consulting firm, to complete a Strategic Review of Fire Service Operations. The final report, received in October 2009, stated: “all things considered, the merger is a sensible move and it should be supported.”
What occurs in a merger?
One fire district petitions to “become a part” of another fire district. If the petition is accepted by the other district, voters in the fire district which wants to merge vote on the ballot issue. A simple majority vote is required (50% +1 vote). If approved, all assets are transferred to the surviving district, and the merging district is dissolved. RCW 52.06 prescribes the legal process.
In this proposed merger, Lakewood Fire Department (LFD) will petition University Place Fire Department (UPFD) to merge into University Place Fire Department. In the end, LFD will dissolve and UPFD will remain.
Have mergers occurred in Pierce County?
Yes. In 1990 there were 32 fire departments in Pierce County. Today, there are 21. This 34% reduction is the result of multiple mergers, annexations, or consolidation efforts. Currently, East Pierce, Central Pierce, and South Pierce Fire and Rescue are the largest consortiums. To date, no merger dissolutions have occurred.
What are the benefits of a merger?
Ultimately, reducing duplicated services, creating operational and financial efficiencies, and providing enhanced customer services.
Our Regionalization Committee established the following parameters as a framework in bringing forth a recommendation:
- Providing an equal or better level of service than what currently exists
- Maintain a community connection and identity
- Do nothing that adversely affects our employees or organizations
What happens to our elected Commissioners?
Both departments have 5 member boards. When merged, all ten commissioners make up “the board.” Over the next 3 elections (odd years only) the board is permanently reduced back to 5 members. Residents of the new merged district (Lakewood and University Place) would be eligible to run for any open position.
What do we call ourselves?
We have identified West Pierce Fire & Rescue as the name of our new entity. This is consistent with the other merged agencies in Pierce County.
Will University Place Fire Department lose services to Lakewood Fire Department?
No. Staffing and equipment levels in University Place will remain the same if not increase. Also, University Place will benefit from additional support and several key programs and services already being offered in Lakewood.
- Additional Support Staff (Administrative, IT, Maintenance, Training/EMS, Chaplains)
- Dive and Surface Water Rescue programs (U.P. has none)
- Hazardous Material Teams (U.P. currently contracts for this)
- Disaster Preparedness Coordinator (U.P. has none)
- Grant Writer (U.P. has none)
- Fire Investigation Staff
- Regional Training Academy
- Regional 911 Communications Center
- Honor Guard
What happens to my taxes?
University Place and Lakewood both rely on Regular Fire, EMS, and Excess Levies to maintain our service levels. Currently, both departments levy the same Fire and EMS rates. Lakewood’s Excess levy rate is slightly higher than the University Place rate. When merged, any newly approved levy rate must be identical for all taxpayers. With the merger, we are confident the Excess levy rate can be maintained at the University Place rate. Essentially, the University Place citizen would benefit from the all above enhancements at no additional cost.
However, Lakewood taxpayers alone will continue to pay for their 2001 bond debt (14.3 million) until fully paid off in 2021. University Place taxpayers will not be obligated to this debt.
Can University Place Fire Department continue to function alone?
Yes. Both Lakewood and University Place are robust, highly functioning agencies. However, UPFD will incur increased future costs to add vital support staff and provide marine rescue services. Currently UPFD has no marine resources. With the opening of Chambers Bay beach access, we need to be able to provide these services. Also, our training division needs additional personnel to keep pace with training requirements. Additional clerical support is also needed. These services and support staff would be available with the merger.
Also, TriData recommended relocating a fire station somewhere in southern University Place. This would improve response times in this area. Under the merger, the costs would be distributed over nearly 100,000 taxpayers rather than 32,000 University Place residents alone.
Do University Place and Lakewood Fire Departments work together now?
Yes. We currently collaborate on firefighter recruitment, testing, and training. University Place already contracts with Lakewood for 911 dispatching services and vehicle maintenance. In addition, both agencies send apparatus and manpower on fire responses across our shared border. Our departments also share a like culture and mission.
Is now the right time for a merger?
Yes. A vital step in achieving maximal efficiency in a merger is the reduction in, or elimination of duplicated services or positions. This month, Lakewood’s Deputy Chief retired after more than 35 years service. Next month, an Assistant Chief with the same tenure is retiring. This leaves two vital, senior staff positions to be filled. Completing the merger now and bringing both senior staffs together eliminates the need to refill two chief officer positions. This will create immediate salary savings and enhanced efficiency.