Commissioners, council members agree to discuss Joint Powers Authority for fire services

WASHOE COUNTY NEWS RELEASE

The Washoe County Commission acting as the Board of Fire Commissioners for the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District and the Sierra Fire Protection District met today with the Reno City Council to discuss the future of fire service in the region, with a unanimous commitment to have further discussions about how and when a sustainable regional fire service might take shape through some form of Joint Powers Agreement. The Board further maintained its commitment to provide fire service to all areas of the Fire Districts effective July 1, 2012.

Vice-Chair Bonnie Weber said that the choice to end the agreement with the City of Reno for operation of Truckee Meadows Fire occurred in June of 2011. “I based my decision on the facts presented last year and the separation of the two fire stations is no surprise,” said Weber. “We will continue to ensure seamless fire services to our residents in our community now and after standing up Truckee Meadows Fire on July 1. However, I continue to leave the door open and look forward to a discussion on developing a regionalized fire service possibly through a future Joint Powers Authority.”

The Board heard presentations from staff outlining the long course of action over the past two years requesting the City of Reno’s assistance to bring down costs for the fire service contract to a level that would be sustainable over the long term, given the more than $4 million reduction in the property tax revenues collected in the separate restricted budget for the Truckee Meadows District. The City’s response to those requests did not provide for a sustainable funding level, and the Board acted on June 28, 2011 to provide notice to terminate the fire service contract effective July 1, 2012.

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Since that time, the Board and the City have been unable to reach agreement on what they see as sustainable levels of expenditures. The City has left four of its fire stations closed 100 percent of the time this year, with another three stations closed some of the time, because it has not been able to afford its full fire service plan. The Board’s goal is to provide a fire service that keeps all stations open and staffed with sustainable levels of service and funding within the Districts.

The Board has offered to the City a plan to continue a “closest engine response”, in which the closest unit would respond to calls, regardless of the jurisdiction. In that plan, the City of Reno benefits by more than $1.35 million dollars based on the actual call responses provided by Truckee Meadows or Sierra Fire engines into the City of Reno’s jurisdiction in places like Boomtown, Gold Ranch and Stead, for which the City collects all property tax revenues but does not provide all the fire service. The Fire Districts, on the other hand, benefit in areas such as Hidden Valley, portions of Caughlin Ranch, and Zolezzi Lane, in which a Reno fire station is closest, but the Districts collect the property tax revenues. In addition, the Board’s plan would provide millions of dollars more in savings from not having to staff at least one station for the City of Reno, and additional millions in deferred costs for the City.

The City offered an alternative proposal that would produce a $2.15 million operating deficit in the first year that would have to be made up from cuts to contractual transfers like funding for Worker’s Compensation and Retiree Health benefits, and cuts to capital equipment and funding for wildland fire prevention programs needed for the Districts. This alternate proposal was deemed by the Board to be unsustainable and unresponsive to the Board’s request for a viable plan.

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At today’s meeting, no further progress was made on closing the gap between the different proposals offered, but a commitment was made to discuss options for some form of a Joint Powers Agreement in the future. There are several existing models of Joint Powers Agreements in the Truckee Meadows (Regional Transportation Commission and the Truckee Meadows Water Authority represent two different models), and several more models that exist nationally for fire service. The main distinction is that a Joint Powers Agreement could provide for labor contracts to be negotiated by the Joint Powers Authority, and not by only one party to the contract, which has been a sticking point for the Board of Fire Commissioners in being able to control costs.

Commissioner John Breternitz noted that the Fire Districts are and have been dedicated to providing the highest level financially sustainable fire service to all residents in Washoe County, “We are on a course that will allow us to put the Joint Powers Authority together in a responsible way. That will allow us to represent our interest and create a better final product.”

The Council and the Board agreed to meet again April 19 at 2:30, tentatively scheduled to be held in the County Commission Chambers.

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