WAHOO – The City of Wahoo and the Wahoo Rural Fire District are closer to working out an interlocal agreement that has been months in the making.
The two government entities held a joint public meeting on Sept. 26 to discuss the agreement. Members of the Wahoo Volunteer Fire Department were also in attendance.
The rural board’s attorney, Jim Egr, said there were a number of items in the draft agreement that caused concerns among the board. They included possible billing issues.
The rural board was asking for the city to bill residents’ insurance companies for use of fire equipment owned by the rural board. Some of the equipment used by the Wahoo volunteers is owned by the rural board.
“We’re just going to charge for trucks,” said Rural Board President Bob Meduna. “We’re not going to charge for axes or hoses.”
Meduna said the money would be used to create a sinking fund to pay for unknown expenses that may pop up.
The city bills patients for emergency medical services through a third party vendor, said City Administrator Melissa Harrell. However, City Attorney Jovan Lausterer said the city does not have the authority to bill residents for fire protection, and does not wish to take on the task, which would add to their labor costs.
“It would be very arduous of the staff to have to do it,” he said.
Meduna said because rural fire district members are not on scene to see what equipment is used, they can’t do the billing.
However, the fire department generates monthly reports that include information on what trucks have been used, Lausterer said. Fire Chief Cody Hull agreed to supply the reports to the rural board.
Council Member Carl Warford suggested the rural board hire a third party vendor or an employee to take on the task of billing.
Harrell said if the city supplies the information to the rural board, which then does the billing itself, the funds will go directly to the rural board, rather than be channeled through the city’s billing system.
“It makes it cleaner with the funds,” she said.
Rural board members gave their nod to the new billing agreement.
“That sounds very good,” said Egr.
The two groups also discussed a clause in the agreement that stated if there is an issue, the rural fire board president and city administration would create a subcommittee to look into the matter. Fire board members wanted the language to be more specific, Egr said.
Meduna said they would rather have an elected official represent the city. The city administrator is appointed.
Egr later said the rural board would have no problem with the city administrator selecting the subcommittee member, but added that the city administrator would be a “nonvoting liaison” to the subcommittee.
The council and rural board also agreed to renew the monthly grant application to the Nebraska Forest Service for matching funds. The forest service loans surplus U.S. Forest Service equipment to fire departments through the Federal Excess Personal Property program.
Meduna said these grants had not been filled out since 2013. They must be done by the fire chief, he added.
After discussion about which method to apply (mail in postcard or online), it was agreed that the fire chief would begin grant applications again.
The rural board also asked that they be made aware of the city’s strategic plan for the next seven years so they can adjust for future growth when planning major equipment purchases, Meduna said.
“It’s not intended to dictate to the city as to what they do with their strategic plan,” he added.
Hull said the fire department writes up a three-to-five year capital improvement plan for the city that includes the entire fire district.
“So it’s pretty much there,” he said. “The leg work has been started on it.”
Harrell said the city council shares information on future growth during their annual budgeting process, but cautioned against requiring specially formalized plans for the next three, five or seven years.
In the end, the two groups agreed to take the suggestions and compromises made during the meeting and prepare a final agreement to be adopted by the rural fire board next week and the city council on Oct. 10.