On Wednesday, Dec. 16 the White Pine County Board of Commissioners held their regular twice-monthly meeting at the Bristlecone Convention Center. Among the many items discussed and voted upon during the marathon session, the board approved an interim inter-local agreement to pay the City of Ely $6,000 per month for fire and emergency medical services from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2016.

“In the spirit of cooperation, I’m in favor of this,” Commissioner Richard Howe said. “But if there’s no cooperation, it’s not going to work. It’s a reasonable price and dispatch has to know who to call and when to do it.”

The interim agreement is the first practical step in a long debated attempt to consolidate Ely City and White Pine County fire services. Sheriff Dan Watts described the toll incurred by the process.

“The never-ending budget issues have affected county employee morale,” Watts said in a statement before the board.

The most contentious issue of the night remained the proposal to eliminate the Department of Economic Development, which the county estimates would save $220,000.

Howe motioned to close the department, but before a vote, Commissioner Mike Coster wanted a clarification about where the eliminated office’s functions would go.

“I don’t want a lapse,” Coster said. “The effects would ripple across the state, and it’s hard to correct the record after something like that. We’re writing our own obituary if we terminate its function.”

Elizabeth Frances, the county’s Finance Director, reassured Coster.

“We’re not eliminating the functions of the office,” Frances said. “We’re redistributing the functions and streamlining. We’re talking about eliminating the office.”

“If we do this, we can show county residents that we’re going to reduce government,” Howe said. “It’s the first step. It’s not the only step and there’s going to be some damage. I understand that.”

Despite Howe’s arguments, the Board voted 3-2 not to close the department.

“We’re in a position to cut government and cut the budget,” Howe said. “But we continue to turn our backs on the strategic financial plan. I’m disgusted. To say I’m disgusted is an understatement.”

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