Third-class cities and towns may provide fire protection through either use of volunteer fire fighters, contract for fire protection services, or consolidation of its fire department with another fire protection provider. (7-33-4101, MCA). When a third-class city’s population is greater than 5000 people, the city can continue to be a third-class city so long as its population is under 7,500. (7-1-2112, MCA) Cities that have elected to continue as third-class cities may provide fire protection through contracts for services or as part of a fire district. These low-cost options are not available when the city becomes a second-class city. Second-class cities must provide fire service with a paid department even though it may be augmented with volunteers. The cost difference between contracted and paid department is significant and growing third-class cities cannot afford this substantial and sudden increase in costs of maintaining a paid fire department. This is especially onerous on the general budget that is funded by property tax revenue which are capped. HB 231 in 2011 Session would have allowed all cities, regardless of size, additional options in providing fire protection such as consolidating with fire district, using volunteers or contracting for fire service.
The League will support legislation to allow second-class cities the expanded option to provide fire service through contracted fire protection services, a paid department, a volunteer department or combination of paid and volunteer, or consolidation with another fire protection provider.