Fire district asks Columbia to cover response costs

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COLUMBIA - Boone County Fire Protection District (BCFPD) Chief Scott Olsen delivered a $350,000 invoice to Columbia's city hall Friday, asking the city to cover the costs of calls county firefighters have handled within the city limits over the past year.

The district had an agreement with the city to respond to calls in certain outlying areas of the city closer to a BCFPD station. The Columbia Fire Department responds to calls in certain unincorporated areas closer to a CFD station, but BCFPD Battalion Chief Gale Blomenkamp said the fire district responded to more than 500 more calls in the city than the city responded to in the county last year. 

Blomenkamp said the original five-year agreement expired March 31, 2014. The city and the district have been working without a formal agreement since then. But, he said the district voted to extend the agreement unilaterally in Feb. of 2014, without the city's input. That informal agreement expired Tuesday. 

Blomenkamp said the district has continued to operate under the premise of that agreement to do what's "good for the citizen and what's right for them."

Blomenkamp said BCFPD cannot continue to respond to calls in the Columbia city limits at current levels without funding. Blomenkamp said the city's continuing growth has put a strain on the district.

"Our call run volume has increased significantly," Blomenkamp said. "We cannot sustain that. It puts wear and tear on our people, it puts wear and tear on our equipment." 

Blomenkamp said the district is unlikely to cease serving Columbia if the city does not pay, but it could limit its responses to high-priority calls.

"There's a multitude of options that anyone can lay on the table," Blomenkamp said. "It can be from one extreme of no calls, no cooperation, no nothing, which is not what the citizens expect and it's not what they deserve, nor do I think that's where this thing is going to head."

Blomenkamp said the district and Columbia will have to come to an "equitable and fair compromise" that is good for taxpayers in both the city and the fire district. 

Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes did not return a call from KOMU 8 News requesting comment as of Friday afternoon. Captain Lisa Todd of the Columbia Fire Department said CFD plans to continue cooperation with the district on calls.

Blomenkamp said district officials plan to meet with city leaders on April 15.

(Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information.)

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