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District 15 halts decision to leave Medic One

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Officials with Lewis County Fire District 15 have chosen to forego withdrawing from Lewis County Medic One and will instead join efforts to negotiate possible solutions with Medic One's employees' union.

Though District 15, based in Winlock, had submitted a letter to Medic One on Dec. 16 declaring their intent to withdraw as of next month, they have since been informed the original letter was invalid because it had not been delivered by registered mail, as is required in Medic One's bylaws.

Though District 15 was originally expected to re-submit their letter and move the withdrawal timeline to early March, their Board of Commissioners voted not to do so during their Jan. 8 regular meeting, and will instead be joining other fire districts serviced by Medic One in exploring solutions to the agency's financial problems.

"I know that you're probably wondering, 'What the heck? They're going to do one thing, and then they're going to change their minds,'" said District 15 Board Chair Stan Hankins to audience members during the meeting. "There's a lot to consider here. The number-one consideration is strictly from the standpoint of what's best for the taxpayers."

District 15, as well as Lewis County Fire District 2, in Toledo, and Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20, in Vader and Ryderwood, all of whom own Medic One through an interlocal agreement, have been asked in recent years to contribute large sums from their general budget to help make up for projected shortfalls in the agency, as continuing trends of increased operations cost, decreased patient revenue and decreased call volumes have caused Medic One to absorb significant financial losses.

According to current trends, as well as the recent loss of a contract to service Lewis County Fire District 5, in Napavine, Medic One was expecting a projected shortfall of around $300,000 in this year's budget, and District 15 officials had stated in their original letter they could not continue to pay out-of-pocket for such deficits.

"We can't keep shelling out this money," said Hankins in reference to a 2013 payment to Medic One of $20,302 and a 2014 payment of $50,000, both of which had been solicited in light of expected budget shortfalls.

District 15 is now expected to take part in a special meeting of Medic One's Board of Directors scheduled for Jan. 13 to address outstanding budgetary issues with union representation. On the table are the potential for fewer paramedics to be employed by the agency, as well as additions to the fire districts that own Medic One, and such changes would have to be cleared with the union first.

When responding to District 15's decision to withhold withdrawal for the time being, Union President Brad Flexhaug stated the decision was a positive sign for upcoming negotiations, and said he expects his fellow employees will feel relieved.

"This is a good start," he said.

The union had originally been considering the potential to file an unfair labor practices claim against District 15, as their sudden withdrawal would have been without cause according to the terms of the current bargaining agreement, but Flexhaug said a commitment from District 15 to negotiate a solution puts such concerns to rest.

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