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Latest News - April 2014

April 13, 2014
Union Gap still in talks with Yakima for fire services
Source: Yakima Herald-Republic
By: Mike Faulk

The Yakima Fire Department remains the leading option as Union Gap officials move toward contracting out the city’s fire protection services.

The proposal will get another public discussion Monday night before the Union Gap City Council. It was first floated by City Manager Rod Otterness in November following a restructuring of city departments that saw several positions, including the fire chief, eliminated.

Few specifics on the Yakima option are available because the two cities haven’t entered into serious negotiations, officials on both sides said. The purpose of Monday’s meeting is to get the council’s blessing to proceed with those talks.

In late November, the Union Gap City Council asked staff to explore a range of options. Staff spoke with West Valley Fire Department, which withdrew from consideration March 31, according to a council memo, and a private provider was ruled out “due to debt and labor issues.”

The memo’s author, Union Gap acting Public Safety Director Greg Cobb, did not return calls Friday.

In the memo, Cobb states that a contract with Yakima would save the city money and improve Union Gap’s score in an upcoming review from the Washington Survey and Rating Bureau, which rates cities’ preparedness for emergencies.

The surveyThe survey rates cities from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst possible rating. Union Gap’s current rating is 5.

Combining the departments “could provide a minimum of a five-engine response to all structure fires immediately, which is more than (Union Gap) could provide internally even with a doubling of the budgetbudget.”

Total expenditures for the Union Gap Fire Department and EMS services are budgeted at just under $1.4 million in next year’s preliminary budgetbudget.

Union Gap officials are sensitive to how contracting out city services could affect the town’s identity. Since Otterness arrived in early 2013, municipal court services were transferred to Yakima County District Court and Union Gap’s website development was contracted out to the city of Yakima. Union Gap also is considering contracting with Yakima to provide information technology services for its computer systems.

In each instance, Union Gap officials have argued the decisions were based on cost management and efficiency.

Concern among some residents that the city is contracting out too many services at the expense of its identity could lead to the proposal’s defeat, Union Gap Councilman Dan Olson said.

Olson said he opposes contracting with Yakima for fire services, but also says the city has to find a way to provide better fire services. Olson said he would support putting the contract to a vote of residents.

“I don’t know where it’s going to go, other than the fact that we’ve got to protect the people,” Olson said.

Yakima fire Chief Bob Stewart said the city of Yakima is not aggressively pursuing the agreement. Stewart said he thinks it would benefit both cities, but it’s ultimately Union Gap’s decision.

“People who are not close to this think it might be some kind of hostile takeover of the Union Gap fire service by Yakima, and that is absolutely untrue,” Stewart said. “Yakima and Union Gap are just looking at better ways to serve their communities.”




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