Calling the proposal the city’s greatest chance of success at a special Oakdale City Council meeting on Monday, Dec. 9, Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer moved that the city council pursue a contract with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District for fire services.
In his presentation, Whitemyer laid out three possible proposals that included yearly budget predictions consisting of the status quo of the city maintaining its own fire department with14 firefighters at $2.74 million, the future operation of how the department would operate with 12 firefighters due to a previously voted two layoffs at $2.5 million, and contracting with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District at $2.44 million.
Whitemyer pointed out that if the city were to proceed with its own fire department of just 12 firefighters, the Willowood Station would be subject to “brown outs” to avoid severe overtime costs. The plan with Stanislaus Consolidated would not result in brown outs.
The topic of a merger with the fire district was previously discussed in a special presentation on Oct. 28 where residents were presented with a $26,000 study financed by the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection. Under that plan Stanislaus Consolidated would have taken over fire protection and emergency medical services for the city, absorbing buildings, equipment, apparatus, and existing personnel.
Results of that study indicated that the city would have had to agree to a property tax percentage sharing or have parcels assessed with the Stanislaus Consolidated rate which included $261 for residential properties.
“The city does not need an additional property tax assessment to consolidate fire services,” Whitemyer said about the contract proposal. “The goal is to continue to fund fire services without a new property tax assessment.”
Under the contract plan, rather than a merger, the city would still maintain control of its facilities and apparatus. The city’s current firefighters would automatically become employees of Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District.
Alameda County Fire Department was used as a model of contracting of fire services where smaller cities in the county have started having their fire services provided by one larger department. Not only does that department serve the unincorporated areas, but it has assumed the services of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the cities of Dublin, Emeryville, Newark, San Leandro, and Union City.
Public comment was mixed with those that supported the plan and those that still feared some sort of tax assessments in the future.
Whitemyer attempted to make clear that the proposal was a contract with the city still maintaining control and not a merger that would have put the city under the fire district’s jurisdiction. City Attorney Tom Hallinan stated that a tax increase could only occur with a public vote.
Former Fire Chief Mike Botto addressed the council stating that the city could no longer stand alone in providing efficient fire and life saving services. He explained that the department has worked well under the management contract with Stanislaus Consolidated and that the joint staffing has worked well with the personnel.
“Fail to merge (contract) will result in service levels dropping dramatically,” Botto said. “Where is the depth? Under this plan fire and life saving services will be maintained.”
The council was all in agreement that the plan presented by Whitemyer was the best to proceed with for the future of the city.
Councilman Farrell Jackson said his goal when the matter of a merger was first presented was a goal of maintaining 24/7 coverage with no brown outs or tax increases.
“What I’m seeing tonight is this contract for services does that,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t lock us into anything and we’re not giving away trucks or stations. It also gives us an out.”
Councilman Don Petersen agreed that the plan did not expose the city to any unfunded liabilities other than what they were already responsible for.
The matter passed 5-0 and will now be on the agenda for the council’s Dec 16 meeting to give staff direction to proceed with formulating a contract with Stanislaus Consolidated to become effective July 1, 2014.