On Thursday, Mayor Bob Cashell made good on his promise to Washoe County commissioners to move forward with creating a Joint Powers Authority, proving he is ready to move forward with negotiations.
Also, the Reno city manager was directed to begin the termination process of 80 firefighters as a result.
“We can be ready by July 1, if you’re willing to negotiate,” Cashell told Washoe County commissioners at an historic joint meeting to discuss the divorce of regional fire districts within the county.
Reno City Council members Wednesday approved sending a formal written notice of termination to Truckee Meadows and Sierra Fire protection districts on June 30, changing the way the region delivers fire service to residents the bulk of the Truckee Meadows area — covering every resident from east Sparks to Verdi, and from Sun Valley to Washoe Valley.
“When you come up with a Joint Powers Authority — that opens up all contracts for negotiations,” Cashell challenged the commissioners Monday.
A Joint Powers Authority, or JPA, is a contract between government entities to form a body that will provide a service and can levy taxes or fees to pay for that service. Cashell has made it no secret he opposes the county’s decision to pull the fire agencies apart from the city.
“This just doesn’t make sense to me,” Cashell told the commissioners after finding out the county was a mere $1.2 million apart from what it needed to maintain services for a year in order to work out plans for the future instead of “busting things up.”
During the same meeting, the Reno City Council directed City Manager Andrew Clinger to begin the process of terminating 80 firefighters.
“When deconsolidation occurs, the Reno Fire Department will become a much smaller department, and may have to lay off firefighters,” according to to the staff report.
As part of the merger with Truckee Meadows Fire, Reno hired 98 fire personnel. Reno will be left with additional 80 firefighters.
“The TMFPD has not told Reno if or when they will hire the personnel who will be laid off from the Reno Fire Department. If an agreement with Washoe County can be reached, the layoff notices can be recinded,” the report stated.
For more than 11 years, residents were served by Reno firefighters in stations throughout the northern Nevada region under the umbrella of all districts, as taxes collected varied according to which district fell into each revenue base.
However, because the Washoe County commission wanted more control over how it spends its collection of taxes, the majority of commissioners — with Commissioner Kitty Jung dissenting — decided to deconsolidate the fire districts in 2011 and divorce Truckee Meadows and Sierra Fire from Reno.
Under a contract with Reno, the county paid $11.4 million for Truckee Meadows and Sierra Fire services. The county initially said it hoped to save money on the situation. However, when the county stands up its own fire district, melding Truckee and Sierra Fire together, hiring its own fire fighters and paying for start-up costs, the county’s price tag will jump to $16.4 million. The county also plans to raise taxes in the areas covered by Truckee and Sierra Fire to pay for the increase, the county expressed at Monday’s meeting.
In its deconsolidation plan, which must be negotiated now with the city of Reno and other fire districts, the county plans to draw down its fire crews and possibly close some stations. The county has stated definitively it will reduce staffing at its stations from four- to three-man crews.
Three-man crews cannot, by federal standards, enter a burning building without a “confirmed victim” inside. Another engine must arrive before a firefighter enter the home, time during which the fire can spread.
Mike Piltcher, a Reno firefighter who has worked for 12 years under the consolidation plan, told commissioners, “Any deviation from the plan is not a good plan. It is not a responsible plan.
“I don’t know how to stand outside a structure and watch it burn until another engine arrives. I’ve never been trained on how to do that,” Piltcher said.
The county is also planning to displace 80 Reno firefighters who will be put on informal notice of layoffs, and staff the Hidden Valley and Caughlin Ranch stations with two-man crews to save money. Smaller staffs at each station will save the county 25 percent, according to the county deconsolidation plan drawn up by Kirk Latipow.