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Camas-Washougal Fire Department looking for financing solutions - The Columbian

By Kelly Moyer and Doug Flanagan, Camas-Washougal Post-Record

Published: September 11, 2021, 2:46pm

CAMAS — Consultants hired by the city of Camas in May to review the 9-year-old merger of Camas’ and Washougal’s fire departments say they hope to present an analysis of the department as well as “sustainable and equitable” alternatives to officials by the end of the year.

The Tualatin, Oregon-based Merina + CO will meet with stakeholders, conduct a facilitated analysis of the decade-long partnership that formed the Camas-Washougal Fire Department in December 2013, and develop recommendations for the future of fire and emergency medical services in the Camas-Washougal area.

The Camas City Council unanimously approved the $94,770 contract with Merina + CO on May 17.

City leaders in Camas and Washougal have said they hope the consultants will come up with a solution that allows the fire department to meet the community’s growth and increased needs without putting the bulk of the financial strain on any one jurisdiction.

“The cost-sharing formula that forms the basis of the CWFD merger has created friction in the partnership, and has, at times, threatened the continuance of it,” CWFD Fire Chief Nick Swinhart told city councilors in May. “Both cities have expressed frustration at their inability to fund the necessary growth of the fire department.”

“We believe the agreement has been very good for both cities,” the fire chief added, “but there have been some bumps in the road, particularly when it comes to the cost-sharing formula being equitable. There are concerns on both sides, in both cities.”

Under the 10-year agreement that merged the two fire departments in 2013, Camas agreed to be the main funding agency, paying about 60 percent of the department’s costs, while Washougal would pay 40 percent of the costs.

Officials in both cities began to question the merger in 2018, after Camas city councilors agreed to add four new firefighter positions into the city’s 2019-20 budget. Though most Washougal councilors agreed the fire department was short-staffed and the positions were needed, Washougal officials said their city just could not afford to pay for 40 percent of the new hires.

The issue came up again in 2020, after Camas leaders again said they were considering adding another four firefighters to the roster in the 2021-22 budget.

Washougal City Manager David Scott told the Post-Record in 2020 that Washougal city councilors “have generally acknowledged the need for enhanced staffing” at CWFD but are having trouble finding revenue to cover Washougal’s share of the new hires.

“Our issue currently is an inability to pay for staffing levels beyond the staffing profile identified in the (interlocal agreement), not an unwillingness,” Scott said in 2020, adding that Washougal would likely need to go to its voters to find “sustainable, long-term revenue” in order to pay for more firefighters.

On Tuesday, Moody told Camas council members his team would evaluate the department’s current situation as well as proposed alternatives using criteria that looked at making the department more equitable and sustainable.

“We believe they have to be balanced,” Moody said. “One does not outweigh the other. If it’s sustainable, but not deemed fair, well, it’s still not fair. If it’s equitable, but only lasts a year or two, that doesn’t solve our problem, either.”

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