Danedri Thompson
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Gardner is officially out of the fire protection business.
As of Friday, Nov. 26, the city’s fire services merged with Johnson County Fire District No. 1.
The city inked a lease service deal with the fire district in late October that consolidated Gardner’s fire services with the county fire district. The move dismantled Gardner Public Safety and created the Gardner Police Department.
Initially, the lease service agreement was to start no later than Jan. 1 or as soon as the entities were able.
“They had all their plans in place and were able to make the transfer earlier,” Stewart Fairburn, Gardner City Administrator, said.
On Friday, seven former Gardner Public Safety employees were transferred to the fire district. So, too, was a public safety building that housed mainly fire equipment on 183rd Street in Gardner.
The city also turned over an aerial truck and other fire equipment. The fire district will begin paying the debt on the building and fire equipment in 2011 under the terms of the agreement, and the city will essentially hire Johnson County Fire District No. 1 for fire services at a yearly rate to be paid in 12 equal installments over the course of each year. In 2011, the city will pay $1.04 million for services; $1.08 million in 2012 and $1.1 million in 2013. The contract for services will be renewable on a yearly basis for three years.
When the contract was initially discussed by city council members, city officials planned to draw up a contract that would allow the city to return to providing its own fire services, if officials were unhappy with the fire district.
However, Fairburn told the council in October that bond counsel would not allow the city to let bonds to repurchase the fire equipment and fire house in the future.
Johnson County Fire District No. 1 let bonds to takeover debt payments on Gardner’s equipment and building earlier this month.
For the remainder of this year, the city paid the district $63,867.  That represents approximately one-twelfth of 2011 agreement minus debt service payments. It shouldn’t affect the city’s bottom line this year, according to Fairburn, because seven city employees were transferred along with the assets. They’ll start receiving paychecks from the fire district rather than from the city.
When council members approved the contract to consolidate fire services, Fairburn told the council the contract will save the city approximately $50,000 each year.
Gardner Police Chief Ken Francis said Gardner Public Safety provided police, fire and EMS services for 23 years. Following the Nov. 26 transition, the department now solely provides the services of a normal police agency.
“The men and women of the Gardner Police Department look forward to continuing our high level of service, cooperation, and interactive dealing with our citizens as we strive to protect and serve you,” Police Chief Ken Francis said in a press release.
Fairburn said the finishing touches – having utilities transferred from the city of Gardner to the fire district — were being completed on Monday.
There are still a few tasks to be completed from the fire district’s point of view, however.
According to a press release welcoming Gardner’s employees into the district’s ranks, it will take time to determine staffing at the district’s four fire houses. The fire houses have been renumbered – Station No. 1 is located at New Century AirCenter; Station No. 2 is the former Gardner Public Safety building on 183rd Street; Station No. 3 is located on Park Street; and Station No. 4 is in Edgerton.
The green trucks are still green, though the fire district’s other equipment is red.
“We are probably going to wait on painting for awhile,” Johnson County Fire District No. 1 board member, Kent Harlow, said.