Public meetings on new EMS area coming up

Jun 16, 2020

Residents of the Ninilchik and Anchor Point areas may soon get to decide whether they want to band together for fire and emergency medical services. The borough assembly is due to decide on whether to place a question for it on the ballot this fall.

Anchor Point has a formal service area, funded by property taxes and with about five professional staff. Ninilchik, on the other hand, has a nonprofit that runs its fire and EMS service, paid for by community donations and grants. In February, an upheaval in the nonprofit gave the community a scare about not having services at all, spurring a conversation with the borough about formalizing the fire and EMS department there.

David Bear, the fire chief at Ninilchik Fire and EMS, said the biggest impact would be for Ninilchik’s level of service.

"It would change our service quite dramatically," he said. "If we had five paid positions here, that really does increase our paid staffing and our ability to roll out on calls a lot sooner, with new advanced life support."

Ninilchik currently has two paid staff and relies heavily on volunteers. Training those volunteers is a time-intensive process, and retaining them is difficult. Bear said they usually leave after two or three years. With the size of the operation now, it’s hard to create a dependable response, both for their own community and for mutual aid in the neighboring ones. If the service area combination goes forward, Ninilchik would get about five staff.

One of the options was for Ninilchik to strike out on its own, but that would have meant a higher property tax rate than the combined area, with fewer staff. Ninilchik has a building and equipment, but Bear said there will need to be new equipment purchases in the future, too.

"I think that’s the real advantage of the merger," he said. "It creates a larger budget, at very minimal mill rate increases, it creates the second fully staffed—I don’t want to say fully staffed, bt better staffed, service with all the advantages, capital project budget, fund balance already in place— you get the most bang for our buck."

Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Chief Jon Marsh said his department’s day to day operations won’t change much—they already have a formal service area with paid staff. The physical area will get much larger, but the Ninilchik station will already be there and will get more staff to help with the burden. Plus, a sizable chunk of the property taxes will come from the oil and gas properties in the area—about 37 percent.

Bear said there are financial benefits for Ninilchik, too. Right now, the department relies on donations and fundraisers, which don’t include everyone. Spreading it out across the population might mean that those contributions don’t have to be as high to guarantee service, and senior citizens with property tax exemptions won’t have to pay for it under the borough’s current exemptions. He said there’s also the benefit of improving the area’s ISO rating, which affects fire insurance rates.

But it also could mean sustainability. He said the community got kind of a shock in the spring when the service was at risk of disappearing.

"It creates sustainability," he said. "It creates a service that has a basic level of service and operational capability from year to year."

There are two public hearings scheduled in the upcoming weeks. One is this Friday., with the other schedules for the 26th, both at 6 p.m. Both will be held online, with the public invited to attend and give comments. For more information, contact the borough clerk’s office or visit the borough website.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.