After putting finishing touches on a fire contract to have the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District assume fire service for the City of Oakdale and transfer its existing fire personnel to become employees of the district, the Oakdale City Council voted 5-0 Monday night to approve the handover, which is expected to become effective Sept. 1.
The discussion of the new contract was not without its bumps in the road, with the topic of which entity is credited with the interest from a security account getting the most discussion.
The consolidation of the fire department has been a topic for several years, with the city using Stanislaus Consolidated command staff to manage the Oakdale City Fire Department. In July 2013, Stanislaus Consolidated conducted a study on reorganization of the Oakdale Fire Department and Oakdale Rural Fire Department into one agency with Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District. After the completion of the study, the city determined that it would prefer to pursue a contract for services consolidation model instead of a full annexation.
Under that plan, Stanislaus Consolidated would have taken over fire protection and emergency medical services for the city at a cost of $2.1 million, absorbing equipment, apparatus, and existing personnel with the city still keeping ownership of the buildings.
The cost savings to the city is estimated at $250,000 to $300,000 per year.
City Manager Bryan Whitemyer stated that existing staffing of two firefighters per station would continue, however if Measure Y, the November sales tax measure, didn’t pass the city faced the possibility of having to close one of its stations, most likely Bridle Ridge.
Prior to discussion, Oakdale resident Rhonda Bell stated she was concerned about the possibility of closing the station.
“A fire station without firefighters inside is like having your law enforcement with unloaded weapons,” Bell said. “It does no good to have no one there.”
A change to a previous proposal was that the city’s equipment and apparatus would go to the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District. Previously, the city was to keep ownership.
“It was done for insurance reasons,” said Whitemyer. “Since our employees will no longer be city employees, it’s better for us to have them driving Stanislaus Consolidated equipment.”
Part of the transfer of the employees included paying the current employees accumulated time, but at a discounted rate the city and fire union had agreed to over a three-year period.
Whitemyer pointed out that no funds from current Measure O, or if Measure Y is passed, would be used for the payout, and that it was already set aside in a General Fund account.
A sticking point during discussions surrounded the requirement by Stanislaus Consolidated to have the city to set aside approximately $300,000 in a special account in “good faith” to cover one month’s payment and a last month’s payment. As part of the account, Stanislaus Consolidated was to collect the interest of the balance, which caused council concern.
“It seems since it’s being put up in ‘good faith’ and it’s our money, we should have the interest,” said Councilman Don Petersen.
Councilman Farrell Jackson agreed that the city should retain the interest of the account.
Fire Chief Randall Bradley explained that the district’s lawyers had legal concerns because the entity that received the interest was the one who owned the money.
Mayor Pat Paul proposed if there was some way then to have the interest amount deducted from the district’s annual bill for services.
Councilman Michael Brennan stated he was not comfortable with the changes that seemed to be happening as well as criticism for the amount of lawyer involvement in the transition.
“They (lawyers) need to be taken into a backroom and slapped ‘Get some common sense’ a few times and brought back out,” Brennan ranted. “Quit being a lawyer and get some common sense. It grates me…Because they’re a lawyer; we get like ducks in a row.”
After continued discussion, the council determined the overall savings of the contract, compared to the interest loss of only $600 to $750, was better to the city’s gain and passed the item unanimously.