Contract for city fire/EMS service to Cascade County up for vote

The City Commission is scheduled to vote on an interlocal agreement with Cascade County for Great Falls Fire Rescue to provide fire protection and emergency medical service from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2021.

The agreement was approved by County Commissioners on Aug. 17.

“Based on their proximity to the city limits and the low frequency of calls, staff is comfortable that continued service will not degrade service within the city. On average, Great Falls Fire Rescue responds to approximately 100 calls in the contracted fire districts annually,” GFFR Chief Steve Hester wrote in his staff report.

The county has contracted with the city for fire and EMS services for more than 30 years and citizens living in the 16 designated fire districts outside the city limits are taxed for the service. State law allows the county to contract for the services.

The agreement includes fire districts: 18, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 40, 42, 43, 45 and 48.

During the last fiscal year, the city received about $211,000 in revenue to provide the service, which was prompt and efficient and reduced insurance rates for those in the 16 fire districts, according to the city.

The contract being considered during Tuesday’s meeting is an updated version of the 2015-2018 contract and has not changed significantly, according to staff.

Some of the boundaries have changed since the city has annexed properties that were once in those contracted fire district.

Under the agreement, the city receives the proceeds from the Rural Fire Control Special District Levy for fire and medical services. The amount will be calculated to generate the maximum levy allowed under state law, according to the agreement. In fiscal year 2016, that was 98.5 mills and the county shall provide the number of such mills levied in each subsequent year of the agreement to the city by Sept. 30.

Payments will be issued in two equal installments, on or before Dec. 15 and June 15 of each contract year.

The city could choose to discontinue providing fire and EMS for Cascade County and the responsibility would return to the county, which would make assignments for fire protection to one of the existing rural volunteer fire departments.

“This alternative, if selected, would likely place considerable hardship and risk on many of the residences currently covered under this agreement,” according to Hester’s staff report.