Discussion was held Feb. 19 at the county commission meeting to consolidate the Panaca Fire District and the Lincoln County Fire District.
County Sheriff Kerry Lee said the members of the Panaca district voted recently to work on making such a merge happen. “There are a lot of things to work out, work with the district attorney and get the process started.” He hopes the consolidation might occur before the start of the new fiscal year July 1.
“We have discussed the pros and cons,” Lee said, “and I think a merger is going to be beneficial to us. I don’t think it is going to change a lot as far as how we do budgets and expenditures. No different than I do now, sitting before the board and submitting my budget.”
County Emergency Manager Eric Holt is fire chief of the Lincoln County Fire District.
District Attorney Dylan Frehner noted that before the consolidation can be finalized, “the tax rate of both has to be the same. Panaca has to come up to match Lincoln County, or Lincoln County has to go down to match Panaca.”
Lee said that aspect has been talked about with the Panaca board, and “we see it being somewhere in the middle. We don’t see it being a big raise, nor does Eric see it being greatly lower. That’s what I mean, meeting in the middle somewhere.”
Commissioner Bevin Lister said the consolidation was not something that has to be completed before the end of the current fiscal year. “The next fiscal year would be all right, too. What is important is to get the process started.”
The question was asked if the City of Caliente could also merge with the Lincoln County Fire District.
Frehner said it was not very likely because Caliente is its own incorporated city. “You could establish interlocal agreements with them, for example, if you wanted to have one manager over the county, but otherwise it would be completely separate.”
He said the merger of Panaca with the county fire district works because the county created the Panaca fire district board.
Lee noted that it also works well because Panaca is in the middle of the three towns in that area. “We work really well with the Caliente Fire Department, and we can both respond to help each other out when needed.”
The merger, Lee felt, would not cause the Panaca group to lose their identity. “We’d just be a part of the county fire district. We’d still submit our budget to the fire chief like we do now. We didn’t see that it would change a whole lot. We looked at the positive and the negative and we didn’t see a whole lot that would be negative.”
Eric Holt is a full-time fire chief with a full-time staff and Lee said, “Things that we don’t get done [in the Panaca district], the larger county district could help with.”
He added, “Our Panaca volunteers are burned out. Between training and calls plus other things, like purchasing new and maintenance on existing equipment, it definitely takes time. We also have land in Panaca should the county fire district want to add any additional facilities near our present property. Also, Panaca has more equipment than the county does, so we would be bringing a bit more to the table, with the exception of the county’s water tender. We are already helping the county when requested.”
Frehner said the process to be followed to move forward with the consolidation “would be either by petition of the property owners in the districts or by resolution of the board of county commissioners. If adopted by resolution, then it goes to an ordinance to consolidate the two and go through a hearing process to consolidate.”
Commissioners may take up the issue again at the March 2 meeting.