City letter calls for a teamwork approach to EMS changes

By Cameron Rasmusson 
Reader Staff

The city of Sandpoint approved a letter to county officials calling for an open process involving all stakeholders when it comes to proposed changes in emergency response.

The letter comes in the wake of a controversial proposal to shift county EMS services onto a nonprofit called North Valley EMS. While advocates for the proposal say the switch could be an effective way to cut costs, critics say the existing system, which operates as Bonner County EMS, provides the most effective form of emergency service.

For its part, the letter approved by Sandpoint council members Wednesday night says the city is open to considering systemic changes. But it also calls for an open development process that includes the public and all concerned parties, including the city itself.

“I’m confident we share the common goal of maximizing service delivery for our constituents while realizing any cost efficiencies and ensuring long term sustainability for EMS and public safety services for all jurisdictions,” reads the letter, which is signed by Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad.

Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS, which manages emergency response stations in Sandpoint, Sagle and Westside communities, is one of those stakeholders, and its chief, Ron Stocking, said he was brought into the conversation about county EMS services at the end of last year.

“(The resignation of the former Bonner County EMS director) presented an opportunity to look at how Bonner County emergency response is handled moving forward,” Stocking told council members.

Stocking said county commissioners asked him to meet with them at the end of November and requested a summary of his ideas for revised services. Stocking said since he only had two days to prepare a report, he could only provide sample models for a budget, joint powers agreement and organizational structure, and he hasn’t yet received a response to his suggestions. Those factors are reflected in the city-approved letter.

“There wasn’t sufficient time given for this concept to be fully vetted by the Chief, overall City administration, the Boards and Council involved in Selkirk Fire or the Joint Powers Authority Board. As such, the concept is not to be considered a formal proposal,” the letter reads.

The city recommends that the county set up a study session with Rognstad and other jurisdiction officials to more fully evaluate the proposed changes. Rognstad also suggests a citizen advisory committee and an independent specialist, according to the letter.

“I request that you take the time to fully explore and study how an integrated EMS and Fire model could enhance the level of services provided to our citizens, increase efficiencies, potentially reduce overall costs through combined facilities and provide a more sustainable model,” reads the letter. “We have realized all these benefits through our Joint Powers Agreement forming Selkirk Fire.”

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