Merger Preserved Fire, Emergency Response Quality in Rural Auburn
by: Jim Holmes, Placer County Supervisor
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
On Tuesday, February 7, the Placer County Board of Supervisors took historic action approving the integration of Placer Consolidated Fire District into the Placer County Fire system.
That action, followed by the approval of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) the next day, paved the way for the dissolution of the Placer Consolidated Fire District and the complete transfer of fire and emergency medical services to the County of Placer under the governance of the Board of Supervisors. The dissolution is expected to take place in April.
The dissolution of a long-standing independent fire district is very unusual, not only in Placer County, but throughout the state.
I commend the foresight of the elected board of the Placer Consolidated District in assessing and recognizing that the future was not sustainable.
The district board recognized the realities of increasing costs of doing business, salary competition from city fire agencies resulting in staff turnover, greater state regulation and insufficient revenues. These constraints have resulted in the limiting of staffing and hours of operation at the Ophir Fire station.
The Placer Consolidated board of directors, on which I served for 16 years prior to my election to the Board of Supervisors, has attempted various measures to ensure that service was adequately provided and maintained despite increasingly shrinking funding.
In 1996, a proposed merger with South Placer Fire Protection District failed to gain approval. Placer Consolidated attempted two separate parcel tax measures that failed. They approached the California Department of Forestry for a contractual arrangement that proved unfeasible.
In a final attempt to preserve this essential public service, the fire district board formally asked the county to help them explore other options for providing fire and emergency medical services. Options included the complete dissolution of the fire district, relinquishing responsibility to the county. When the issue was presented to the Board of Supervisors in October 2005, the staff was authorized to begin discussions with the fire district but adhering to strict fiscal guidelines.
After more than a year of discussions and negotiations between the fire district, CDF and the county, everyone agreed to a sustainable service level. Even as we negotiated, the number of Consolidated firefighters continued to dwindle as they left the district for other opportunities.
While counties have no legal mandate to provide fire protection services, Placer County operates a large fire system using a combination of local fire companies and a contract with CDF. Operating under the fiscal guidelines as directed by the Board of Supervisors, Consolidated personnel, CDF and county staff explored options for providing services. The result was a service delivery profile that maintains quality services for the residents.
With the new approval by the Board of Supervisors and LAFCO, the assistance of CDF, and the cooperation of the Consolidated staff, the remaining fire district personnel will be absorbed into CDF as full time employees in a new service delivery option that utilizes a combination of state and local resources more efficiently. And most importantly, service to the communities will continue uninterrupted.
I want the community to know and be proud of their public officials on the Board of Supervisors, the Consolidated Fire District board, Consolidated personnel, CDF and county staff that engaged in this sometimes difficult situation resulting in excellent and sustainable fire and emergency medical services to the community.