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Years later, fire merger deal near

Rock Falls, Sterling would save money on salaries, equipment

Published: Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

ROCK FALLS – Rock Falls and Sterling are taking a step toward lowering costs and increasing efficiency.

The two city councils will meet Monday in Rock Falls' City Hall to vote on an intergovernmental agreement that would combine the administrative functions of their fire departments.

The agreement, if approved, would go into effect Sept. 28, the day after Rock Falls Fire Chief J.W. Larson retires after 38 years in the department. It would create a cooperative entity called the Twin City Joint Fire Command.

It would save Rock Falls an estimated $45,000 a year, City Administrator Robbin Blackert said.

The agreement won't be a huge money saver for Sterling, but the benefit will be seen in the departments having the same protocols and standard operating procedures, Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard said. 

The cities will split the cost of the fire chief, which includes the $90,000 salary, insurance, pension and other costs, with Sterling covering 61 percent and Rock Falls 39 percent, which are based on the populations, Blackert said.

The split could be adjusted if there's a population shift, she added.

The agreement has been discussed for several years, and started before Blackert was hired by Rock Falls. The discussion began when the two cities were looking for cost-saving measures, Shumard said.

He originally was in favor of combining all aspects of the two fire departments, but said this agreement would be a good step for both cities.

According to the agreement, Gary Cook, now Sterling fire chief and Rock Falls deputy fire chief, will be named as chief of the joint command. The rest of the appointments will be announced Monday, pending the agreement's approval, Blackert said.

Not only will each city save money on the fire chief's salary, but the agreement also will allow for them to plan equipment and vehicle purchases so there aren't redundancies.

"To me, that is the absolute biggest savings [for the city] and for citizens on both sides of the river," Blackert said. "We don't need to have three tankers sitting over here and three sitting over there."

The two departments already work together to respond to many fires in either city, so some vehicles or pieces of equipment aren't necessary for both cities, she said.

Purchasing equipment together will be especially beneficial when it comes to aerial units, which could cost around $1 million, Blackert said.

The agreement, which is open-ended, calls for two deputy fire chiefs who must represent both cities, Blackert said.

"I think both sides of the river’s interests are protected, and it’ll be beneficial."

To attend

The Rock Falls and Sterling city councils will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St. in Rock Falls, to vote on an intergovernmental agreement to combine the administrative functions of their fire departments.

The Rock Falls City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 17, at City Hall, for its second meeting of the month. 

The agendas will be posted at www.rockfalls61071.com and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information. The City Council meeting also can be viewed live on Channel 5 on cable.

The Sterling City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at the City Hall, 212 Third Ave.

Go to www.sterling-il.gov or call City Hall at 815-632-6621 for an agenda or more information.

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