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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ukiah City Council will discuss possible merger / consolidation options

Council to discuss options for fire dept.

Consultant weighed possibilities for merging UFD, UVFD

At a special workshop tonight, the Ukiah City Council will discuss possible options for merging the Ukiah Fire Department and the Ukiah Valley Fire District.
Public Safety Director Chris Dewey said the focus of the workshop will be a report prepared by Citygate Associates, LLC, that explores the process, fiscal impact, disposition of assets, and the long-term fiscal sustainability of a partnership.

It begins at 5 p.m. in the Ukiah Civic Center.
Late last year, Dewey presented the council with five options for trimming the UFD's costs. All of the proposals included reducing staff, and most of them include a "Cal Fire Amador contract that has the city paying $122,588 to have two, full-time Cal Fire employees dedicated to the department."

Two of the options have the city laying off all of its firefighters and hiring them back as Cal Fire employees, and most of the options have the city stopping its ambulance service.

Dewey said he was asked by the council to also explore merging with UVFD, and hired Citygate Associates to present the options and challenges involved.

According to the report, the UFD serves a population of 16,109 and responded to 2,383 calls last year, while the district serves 13,000 and responded to 864 calls. The city has four to five firefighters on duty each day, while the district has two.

The UFD's expenses last year were $3.16 million with $12,144 in revenue after expenses, while the district's expenses were $1.07 million with $5,000 in revenue after expenses. The assessed value of UFD was determined to be $1.25 billion, while the district's was $1.23 billion.

The report explored three potential forms of merger: full contract of service, joint powers authority (JPA) and annexation of one agency into the other.

With full contract of service, one agency stops providing services directly and contracts with the other to provide service at an annual cost. With a JPA, both agencies create a new fire department operated by a JPA and then each contracts with the JPA for services. With annexation, the boundaries of a fire district are expanded to encompass the other agency.

A summary of the report's findings include:
A merger of the two would save "little if any money," because both have "inadequate support staff," but it could improve services.
Immediate consolidation of line operations is impractical due to the salary/benefit differences paid by both agencies.
Both agencies have substantial apparatus replacement needs and the district is utilizing a leasing plan, and the city has fiscal reserves to meet part of its need.
Cal Fire is "an alternative that would provide both the city and the district with an in-depth support structure, well-trained staff and back-up in the case of vacancies or injuries."
If the fire district annexed the city, the city would be required to transfer sufficient revenue to the district to support the $3.1 million in UFD expenses assumed by the district to continue the current level of service.
The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) will only approve an annexation if: there will not be a reduction in services; the district will be fiscally stable after annexation, a plan exists for replacement of assets and disposition of current assets and there are not better alternatives to annexation.

The workshop begins at 5 p.m. in the council chambers at 300 Seminary Ave.

Source: Ukiah Daily Journal - Link

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