Piece by piece, each aspect of the newly created fire district was discussed by commissioners, including employee negotiations, fire station locations, the color of fire engines and trucks, response times, automatic aid agreements with neighboring districts and jurisdictional boundaries.
Washoe County commissioners continued to discuss the matter of joining forces following their decision to divorce the Truckee Meadows and Sierra Fire protection districts from the city of Reno and create a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) with the city, which would form an entity with the power to levy and collect taxes to provide fire service to the Truckee Meadows region.
Options for a financially sustainable regional fire service were considered by commissioners, acting as the Board of Fire Commissioners. The board directed new Sierra Fire Chief Charlie Moore in a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Kitty Jung dissenting, to continue discussions with the city of Reno on April 19, as well as with other interested governments, to draft the JPA for fire service that would include the ability to have separate union agreements under the responsibility of each jurisdiction as an interim step towards a long-term regional fire service.
During the meeting, Commissioner John Breternitz accused the city of Reno of playing games with its automatic aid agreement with the county. Reno does not currently have an auto aid agreement in place following the break-up of fire districts, Reno City Councilman David Aiazzi said.
Breternitz accused Reno of toying with residents to “prove a point.”
“It’s very important for us to affect auto aid in the community,” Breternitz said. “Based on cost, it makes sense to me. I don’t believe it’s a negotiating ploy. We believe in automatic aid. I’m pretty worked up about this. The people in the middle are the citizens. We shouldn’t be playing games with our city.”
The county offered twice to pay the city of Reno $1.2 million to keep a south Reno station open by offering to rent it to the city for $1 a year for an indefinite time, according to Mary Walker, a city consultant. For the $1.2 million payment, the city would agree to cover all regional island areas and open two stations in one of those pockets. The city would also be asked to respond to any incident with the closest resource.
The motion to approve paying the city $1.2 million was voted down twice by commissioners.
“The problem is, we don’t have an automatic aid agreement with them now,” Aiazzi said. Prior to the divorce, Reno was paid $11 million by the county to provide fire service to the region.
Aiazzi, who has said all along that reconsolidating fire districts throughout the Truckee Meadows district is not a good idea, said if the county and city would continue to join forces, citizens in the region would continue to be “safer.”
“Right now, they want Reno to do the same thing as we’ve always done and not look at the money,” Aiazzi said “They want us to still cover them, but they don’t want to pay us for it.”
By voting down the issue, the county will go back to assuming much of its new district’s employee liability for retiree health, transfer of sick and annual leave hours from the city of Reno and assume the use of station 14 in south Reno, which will become a Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District station, Walker said. Station 14 will be staffed, like all other TMFPD stations, with three-person crews.
A union agreement was also approved Tuesday that provides for three-person minimum staffing in all 11 stations. This will save the district $2.5 million a year, Walker said, virtually guaranteeing the fire district to be able to keep all fire stations open.
“We’re thrilled about that. That was our goal,” she said.
Walker said that only 2 percent of calls were fire related, equating to about 100 structure fires in the fire district area.
“Therefore three-person crews can fully staff 98 percent of calls,” she said. “The other 2 percent have to wait until the stations can assemble a force until they can actually enter a house.”
The decision was made to keep all 11 stations open instead of having four-person staffing, Walker said.
“Three-person works beautifully,” Walker said.
Reno City Manager Andrew Clinger could not be reached for comment following the county commission meeting in order to respond to accusations made by commissioners.
“As the city of Reno staff member, I was not at the meeting and I would not be able to respond to any negative comments directed at the city from the county commission,” Reno spokeswoman Michelle Anderson said.