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Domiciliary may close its emergency services

WHITE CITY - The federal government would pay a local fire district almost $1 million over four years to keep taxpayers from footing the bill if the Veterans Affairs Domiciliary disbands its 10-member fire department.

According to spokesman Bill Petrocini, a proposal that would turn over emergency services to Jackson County Fire District is under "legal and technical review."

If the Domiciliary does disband its department, Petrocini said, the entire fire crew would be offered other positions within the federal facility.

"We're not letting anybody go," he said.

A second review process within Veterans Affairs must take place before any changes can be made, Petrocini said, adding that he does not know when a decision will be announced.

"We just don't know right now what the results will be," Petrocini said. "We really haven't worked out all those specifics."

The Domiciliary is on federally owned property inside the boundaries of Fire District 3. Since the late 1940s, the White City Veterans Affairs Fire Department has been responsible for fire suppression and emergency medical care.

The Domiciliary's fire department also conducts staff and patient training, safety inspections, sprinkler maintenance, fire drills and a variety of other services.

In the spring, Domiciliary officials began looking for ways to keep its costs down while maintaining the care of patients. Petrocini said last year the facility spent approximately $550,000 to maintain its department.

Fire District — would be forced to provide emergency services if the Domiciliary disbanded its fire department.

However, under the proposed $975,000 "buy-out," the Domiciliary would make payments to Fire District — over a period of four years to ensure local property taxes did not increase to cover the addition of the federal property.

Currently, taxpayers within the district pay $2.69 per $1,000 of assessed property value for fire protection.

Chief Randy Iverson said the federal funds would be used in part to hire two additional employees. He said the district has budgeted for six additional employees over the next three years.

the time funds from the Domiciliary run out, Iverson said, Fire District — would be able to maintain service levels thanks to its own budgeting.

"It allows us to absorb the impact," Iverson said of the proposal. "It will all roll together."

Iverson said if the contract is approved, Fire District — would begin handling emergency services as early as spring of 2002.

He said he doesn't foresee any difficulty offering services to an agency that employs 400, has a capacity for 820 patients and treats an average of 5,000 outpatients annually.

"It's not like it's foreign territory for us," he added.

Petrocini said Fire District — would be asked to handle an estimated 200 calls for service each year.

Reach reporter Jill Briskey at 776-4485, or e-mail