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Sparks council extinguishes talk of Sparks fire consolidation
by Jill Lufrano
Apr 09, 2012 | 1488 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SPARKS — Members of the Sparks City Council decided Monday to take a back seat as Washoe County and the city of Reno are slated to begin negotiations April 19 on a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) for a regional fire district.

The final decision was to have Sparks Fire Chief Andy Flock attend the meetings and deliver progress reports to the city manager following each encounter.

“Let’s just let it ride,” Mayor Geno Martini said in the end.

Sparks City Manager Shaun Carey asked City Council members if they wanted to take a seat at the table as county commissioners and Reno council members continue to discuss joining forces following the divorce of Truckee Meadows and Sierra Fire Protection districts and form an entity to give them the power to collect taxes and provide fire service to the Truckee Meadows area.

“This does go beyond fire issues,” Carey said. “This is a tax question. Our recommendation is to have the city manager and the fire chief monitor the meetings and report back to you.”

Carey advised the council members that one result of the county and city of Reno forming the JPA would be that fire service districts could see tax increases.

“That’s the new wrinkle in forming the new district,” Carey said.

The majority of Sparks council members agreed that the entire council did not need to participate.

“I think it’s an awful lot of staff time,” Councilwoman Julia Ratti said. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It’s like changing our tune and saying ‘Yes, let’s be included.’ ”

Sparks City Councilman Mike Carrigan agreed that Sparks did need to be represented.

“I think we need to have a presence there,” he said.

One issue the Sparks City Council had to struggle with while considering whether or not to enter the fray between Washoe County and Reno over the recent fire district divorce was a Sparks resolution passed in 2009 that prevented Sparks from entering such negotiations.

The City Council adopted a resolution that the city could join regional efforts without participating in or supporting any regional government consolidation. The resolution reads:

“… Be it resolved the Sparks City Council will join regional efforts to improve the quality and fiscal efficiencies of city services for the citizens of the City of Sparks and fiscal equity for the region, without participating in or supporting any regional government consolidation, which would change the form of government of the City of Sparks.”

The city adopted the resolution Aug. 10, 2009 with many of the same sitting members of council, including Mayor Geno Martini.

The proposed regional fire district would change the form of Sparks government and create a new “sole purpose Board to determine service levels within the City of Sparks,” the staff report stated. “It also would expose the City to past and future decisions of others. The cost of fire service is not created equal, nor are the financial burdens equally shared.”

On April 2, a commitment was made during a joint meeting between Washoe County and the city of Reno to discuss options to create some form of a JPA in the future. A JPA is a contract between government entities to form single entity that will provide a service and can levy taxes or fees to pay for a service — in this case, fire protection in the Truckee Meadows region.

There are several existing models of JPAs in the Truckee Meadows. The Regional Transportation Commission and the Truckee Meadows Water Authority represent two different models and there are several other national fire service models, according to Washoe County.

Mainly, a JPA allows labor costs to be negotiated, and not by only one party to the contract, which has been a sticking point for the county Board of Fire Commissioners in controlling costs, according to a release written by Washoe County spokeswoman Nancy Leuenhagen.

Since the meeting, the Reno City Council sent an official letter directing Washoe County to move forward with its plan to create the JPA negotiations. As of June 30, the Reno City Council formally will sever its ties to the Truckee Meadows and Sierra Fire protection districts, changing the way the region delivers fire service to residents and allowing for the JPA negotiations to proceed. Reno City Manager Andrew Clinger also was to begin the process of terminating 80 firefighters.

The Reno council and the county commission agreed to meet again April 19 at 2:30 p.m., tentatively scheduled to be held in the commission chambers at the Washoe County Complex at 1001 E. Ninth St.
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