A consultant will soon study the fire service that covers Northfield, Dundas and area townships and a task force recommendation that would create a separate governing entity.

The Fire Service Task Force, which was formed in August by the Cities of Northfield and Dundas in conjunction with the Northfield Rural Fire Protection District that covers area townships, approved a contract with a consultant to explore organizational options for the Northfield Fire Department and the rural fire district Friday afternoon, which could cost up to $30,000.

“A goal is strengthening the volunteer nature of the organization,” said Glen Castore, the task force chair and a Bridgewater Township supervisor. “What motivated a lot of this is concern in the townships is that volunteers would resign as a result of the tension [in the fire department].”

The task force came up with three recommendations on organizational structures: A fire district through a joint powers agreement, a fire district with taxing authority and consolidation under the City of Northfield.

“The goals it to have an operational and financial plan for moving forward with one of these three,” Castore said. “Broadly speaking, we are looking for a way to deliver fire service more efficiently and effectively.”

The creation of a fire district by combining the Northfield Fire Department and Rural Fire District, which currently operate out of the Northfield Safety Center and divvy up expenses, would mean that the fire service would be outside of city administration, Castore said, and put decision power into the hands of the volunteer firefighters.

With the consolidation option, the rural fire district would be absorbed into the fire department, he said.

The task force’s statement of work directs the consultant to explore how governance, financing, facilities, equipment and management could be handled, depending on how the entity is structured.

Consultants will start interviewing city and fire service staff the week of Dec. 17, Castore said, with final study results coming in about early March.

Council Member Erica Zweifel said at the task force meeting Friday that those elected to the 2013 council should be invited to the Dec. 18 work session that the consultants plan to attend.

“They should have the opportunity to start being involved in the process,” she said.

Jerry Anderson, the administrator of the rural district and a task force member, said the study will help the fire services find some common ground, get on the same page and better serve the community.

“We’re kicking off the process,” he said. “Northfield, Dundas and the rural district have been working for the last few years to recreate relationships.”

Costs will be split

Emergency Services Consulting International, the contracted consultant, costs at most $27,588, according to the contractl. With other expenses the total could be up to $30,000, Castore said.

A grant from the State Fire Marshall’s Office could cover consultant costs, if awarded in January.

Northfield and the townships will each pick up 45 percent of costs and Dundas will pay 10 percent.

The Northfield City Council recently approved funds of up to $13,500 in the cost sharing agreement with Dundas and area townships.

Reach reporter Kaitlyn Walsh at 645-1117, and follow her on Twitter.com @NFNKaitlyn.

Reach reporter Kaitlyn Walsh at 645-1117, and follow her on Twitter.com @NFNKaitlyn.

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