The cities of Papillion and La Vista are discussing two mergers that officials say are designed to save taxpayers money and build on the history of cooperation between the two communities.
Over the last 10 years, La Vista’s population has increased 45 percent and calls for fire and EMS service have increased by 153 percent. In contrast, during that same period of time, despite an emphasis on recruitment efforts, the city said the number of volunteers has not followed suit.
In light of those statistics and in an effort to be proactive in planning for future needs, La Vista officials have examined multiple options for providing fire and EMS services to the community over the past several months, including:
Due to a great working relationship and their commitment to maintain a top-notch fire department, the city of La Vista reached out to the city of Papillion to discuss possibilities. As a result, it appears that continuing the discussions with the expectation of a joint solution is the most fiscally-responsible method of providing high-quality fire and EMS services.
On the table, the elimination of the La Vista Volunteer Fire Department and an expansion of the Papillion department made up entirely of paid firefighters. “While no one is happy about the prospect of losing the great tradition of volunteerism that La Vista has enjoyed, we have to do what is in the best interest of the residents of la vista,” says La Vista Mayor Douglas Kindig, who says there simply aren't enough volunteers to adequately staff the department.
This is a difficult thing for the head of the La Vista Firefighters Association to hear. “When you put your heart and soul into something, that is disappointing,” says La Vista firefighter Matt Rappley. “I think that we were surprised last night when the city came to us. We don't think that everything has been exhausted.”
The people we talked to seemed receptive to a merger. “With the size of La Vista and Ralston just being next door and Papillion, combining the city services makes sense,” says Paul Halverson of La Vista.
“If they can't find the personnel to go out a different direction and combine them,” says Ardelle Halverson of La Vista. The study is expected to take four to six weeks to complete.
Not everyone shares the positive sentiments. Plenty are voicing their opinions online. "The city of La Vista needs to support their fabulous volunteers and look at other options, ones that will keep their departments open,” wrote Toni.
If the merger takes place, La Vista’s volunteer firefighters will be able to apply for positions on the expanded Papillion department. Because of civil service rules, those volunteers would not get preferential consideration if they do apply to Papillion.
The cities are also discussing other potential opportunities for cost savings related to public works facilities. Papillion has acquired land across the street from the La Vista Public Works facility and is planning the construction of a new public works complex. Officials said the cities will use Strategic Government Resources, Inc. to assist with an evaluation of opportunities for collaboration.