By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Lafayette, Carlton talk fire district merger

The two bodies’ governing boards met last Tuesday night to review a study by Emergency Services Consulting International, hired by Lafayette to conduct an analysis. It was an initial step in what could be a two- or three-year process leading to elections by both sets of constituents.

ESCI officials told the two bodies that annexing Lafayette into the Carlton Fire District, which already covers an expanse of rural territory in addition to the city of Carlton itself, would save money for both sides. The consultants said such a merger also would improve services by reducing response times, and would allow the possibility of having better coverage during daytime hours, when volunteer firefighters are scarce.

For Terry Lucich, fire chief in both Carlton and Lafayette, the promise of better daytime coverage is central.

Both departments have dedicated volunteers who spend many hours  practicing and training to meet state regulations. But there aren’t enough, and the ranks are especially thin during the day, when many are working at paid jobs out of town.

Through the economy of scale, he said, a combined department might be able to add a few paid staffers to the mix, supplementing the volunteers.

The Carlton Fire District, product of a recent merger between its urban and rural elements, covers 36 square miles stretching from Panther Creek to Abbey Road. It extends south almost to theLafayette city limits.

Property taxes paid by district residents support both medical and fire response, a new fire hall that opened in Carlton in 2011, and a satellite fire hall on Panther Creek Road.

The Lafayette Fire Department formally covers only the city proper, but often assists Carlton and Dayton on rural calls nearby. Its trucks are housed in a facility needing replacement.

Services are paid through the city’s general fund. If the city department were to be annexed by the fire district, Lafayette property taxpayers would pay $1.02 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for fire services.

After listening to ESCI’s report, the council and fire board members asked the company to provide additional information. In particular, they wanted more specifics about how the merger might save money.

“I need to know the exact details on why this draws costs down,” said Ken Wright, a member of the Carlton board. “What are the efficiencies?”

He noted the Carlton rural and city departments went through the same sort of process when they merged. They were able to convince voters the merger was a beneficial, and pass a bond measure to build the new station, because they knew exactly what the benefits would be.

Lafayette officials also asked ESCI for more information about the availability of grants that could help fund construction of a new fire station in their city. One of the consultants noted the chances of winning such grants might be improved by showing that the station would have a regional impact as part of a combined fire district.

ESCI consultants promised to provide more information within a few weeks.

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