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Mayor: Mills gradually reverting to volunteer fire service after decision to lay off Town’s nine firefighters

(Mills Fire Department via Facebook)

CASPER, Wyo. — Mills Mayor Seth Coleman told Oil City on Friday, April 26 that the Town of Mills is in talks with the Mills Fire Department following the Mills Town Council’s decision to move to an administrative only fire staff.

A Thursday press release issued by the Town of Mills said that Mills will contract with outside agencies after June 30 to provide daily fire and emergency services.

Coleman said that Mills is in talks with the Mills Fire Department, Natrona County and the Town of Bar Nunn. He said the plan is to transition back toward a volunteer fire service model.

He added that such a transition will take time, and in the interim, Mills wants to contract with the County and/or Bar Nunn to provide services to Mills.

Coleman said the advantage of contracting with the County would be that they already respond to emergency calls within Mills jurisdiction. He added that contracting with Bar Nunn to have their volunteer fire department provide services to Mills is also on the table.

He said that in the case of working with Bar Nunn, Mills could help them fund their volunteer services while Mills works toward re-establishing their own volunteer fire department.

Coleman said that Mills has nine firefighters and one administrative staff. He said the plan is to keep a fire administrator to conduct services such as inspections.

Coleman came on as interim Mills mayor in 2016. He said that finding funding for the fire department has been difficult since he stepped into the position.

He said that when Mills had an all-volunteer fire department in 2004, costs to the Town to provide fire services were significantly lower. He said that as he understood it, Mills supported the volunteer fire department in the form of helping purchase equipment at that time.

Since 2004, Coleman said the fire department gradually transitioned toward a model including full time employees. He added that the volunteer fire department was fully disbanded in 2014. It has cost Mills more than one million dollars the past several years to fund the fire department, he added.

Rising costs associated with staffing the department caused Mills to use One-Cent funding to keep it operational, according to Coleman. He said one of the reasons Mills is working to transition back to a volunteer fire service model is because he thought that One-Cent optional sales tax funding should be intended for repairs to Town infrastructure such as maintaining street and sewage infrastructure.

Coleman also said that one of the reasons Mills initially moved toward a model with full-time fire fighters was because it was thought that Mills could generate some revenue via the emergency services they provide.

He said that he thought the reality of the situation turned out to be different. Coleman said that the portion of emergency service fees that Mills received was not significant enough to generate a reliable revenue.

Coleman added that Mills used to contract with a third party to collect the emergency service fees owed to the Town, but that cut further into the amount Mills was able to keep. Mills then began to conduct these collections in-house, but Coleman said the savings were not enough.

As to the timing of the decision, Coleman said that Mills is working toward establishing their Fiscal Year 2020 budget in July. For that reason, he said he thought this difficult decision needed to be made.

Coleman said that the Town Council reached the decision toward the end of their Wednesday, April 24 meeting. They discussed the issue in an executive session.

Councilwoman Sara McCarthy did not attend the meeting.

Coleman said that the the Town of Mills is working on a new official statement to clarify the Town’s decision and plans.

The Mills Fire Department said they are working on a press release regarding the decision as well.