Despite a decision less than three months ago where council members publicly criticized the premise, the Oakdale City Council has reversed its position about paying a third of a Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District study on a fire department merger.
Back on Nov. 18, 2013 Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer asked the city council to pay for a third of the cost – $8,333 – of a $25,000 merger study commissioned by the Stanislaus Consolidated District from July 2013 that had looked into the combining of the Oakdale City Fire Department, and the Oakdale Rural Fire District into the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District.
In response, the council gave a resounding “no,” deciding to not pay that amount since the city had not been asked to pay for the study prior to the consultant conducting the study.
On Monday night, Feb. 3, Whitemyer again asked the council to pay a third of the cost of a $25,000 study and this time the council, despite public protest and its own prior decision not to, agreed to part with $8,333.33 of city funds to contribute to the bill.
During the November 2013 meeting when the topic was first discussed, a majority of the council spoke out stating their objection.
“That doesn’t sit straight with me,” said Councilman Farrell Jackson at the time after he pulled the item from a consent status on the agenda. “I was led to believe something else.”
Councilmen Don Petersen and Mike Brennan had both called being asked to pay the portion a poor business practice since the request had not been made prior to any agreement to the study.
Jackson had also protested because citizens were led to believe during town meetings that the total cost of the study was being paid by Stanislaus Consolidated.
At the Feb. 3 council meeting Whitemyer again introduced the request to pay a third of the cost and used the same reasoning of “partnership” and “good faith” that had been made previously made in November.
The only change was that the city was now looking at contracting with Stanislaus Consolidated for services rather than merging.
“Working together is paramount to the success of a contract for services or any other form of merger or partnership,” wrote Whitemyer in the motion. “With this in mind the city, OFPD, and SCFPD all benefited equally from the financial analysis that was provided in the study. Although, SCFPD didn’t initially ask for the city to pay a third of the cost of the study, staff believes that making this payment will serve as a sign to the SCFPD board of its commitment to the partnership that it is embarking on.”
Whitemyer explained that Stanislaus Consolidated Board Member Michelle Guzman said their board had been pressed hard by some of its constituents about Oakdale not paying its share of the fire study. He said he was also “pressed hard” by a few SCFPD community members when he attended their meeting last month.
Whitemyer said Councilman Tom Dunlop, who was absent for the original vote, suggested bringing the matter back to the council for a vote.
Jackson said he also had the impression that Stanislaus Consolidated expected Oakdale to pay a portion and there was possibly bitterness by district officials when he was contacted about why he changed his vote.
Jackson explained that his goal was to save the city money with the long term benefit with a contract for services and did not want to start off “butting heads” with the fire protection district.
“The basic premise of what they (SCFPD) did was not right,” said Jackson. “If we went without paying, there would have been some animosity. That’s not a good way to start out.”
“The rest of them switched,” said Brennan, who was the only opposing vote keeping in line with his November decision. “For me, I voted no because we said we weren’t going to pay it and they said we don’t have to pay it.”
Kathleen Westenberg spoke to the council and voiced her displeasure at the meeting, stating that the citizens of Oakdale had been lied to when they were told they weren’t being charged for the report during the meetings regarding consolidation at the end of 2013.
“It had been asked more than once at those meetings,” said Westenberg on Wednesday. “At no time did anyone speak up and say Oakdale would later be charged a fee.”
Westenberg also questioned why the matter was brought back up after only being decided months ago.
“I thought that was it,” Westenberg said. “It was a done deal.”
Oakdale resident Mike Eggener, who had spoken in opposition at the November meeting, said he was infuriated when he heard of the recent decision.
“I’m outraged at this because we already said ‘no,’” Eggener said. “How many times are we going to keep bringing it back up until someone gets their ‘yes?”
“I would agree that it would have been better if Consolidated had asked the city to participate in the study prior to incurring the cost,” Whitemyer said. “I believe this helps generate good faith and provides the city with a better chance of successfully negotiating a contract for services. If successful the contract has the potential to save the city about $200,000 annually.”