After a little more than two hours, it came down to whether or not Washoe County would accept keeping the status quo of consolidated fire services as it had since July 2001 when the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District followed by the Sierra Fire Protection joined the city of Reno, using Reno personnel to man its stations with staffing levels that met federal guidelines.
Now, with Washoe County seeking to save money by reducing crews to dangerously low levels in its stations — saving the county $2.4 million a year — the issue caught fire.
“We’re going to break things up and put citizens at risk for $1.2 million,” Reno Mayor Bob Cashell said. “This doesn’t make any sense to me.”
An historic meeting Monday between Washoe County commissioners and Reno City Councilors to discuss the direction of an interlocal agreement for fire service — from which the county recently divorced itself — came down to dollars and “sense.”
The county leaned toward keeping its stance on divorcing from Reno and standing up its own fire district, hiring its own firefighters, joining districts with Sierra Fire Protection District and becoming its own fire board.
However, the meeting ended with no clear results. Another meeting is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. April 19 at the Washoe County Complex on Ninth Street in Reno to continue discussions.
The result could displace 80 Reno firefighters who will be put on informal notice of layoffs; cost taxpayers in the Truckee Meadows and Sierra Fire districts more money in its first year of operations as the county’s price tag for the new system hits $21.3 million; and force some stations to close while other stations’ staffing is pushed well below federal standards — some with only two-person crews in Hidden Valley and Caughlin Ranch.
Washoe County Commissioner Kitty Jung, who voted against the deconsolidation, asked why the county would want to pay more for something her constituents are clearly against.
“The vast majority (of my constituents) are not in favor of deconsolidation,” Jung said.
The county’s contract with Reno for the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District cost $11.4 million. When the county begins running its own district, the price tag will jump to $16.4 million, Jung pointed out.
“Why not have a shared-service agreement?” she asked.
Cashell, who has made it clear he is not in favor of the idea of breaking apart the system that has worked for the past 12 years, said it didn’t make sense to negotiate a Joint Powers Authority — 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 — over such a small amount of money rather than keep the status quo.
“Here we are at $1.2 million and we’re going to bust up things,” Cashell told commissioners.
The county started planning for deconsolidation nearly a year ago. Within 45 days, a plan was drawn up and recently Chief Charles Moore from Colorado was hired to run Truckee Meadows and Sierra Fire Protection districts, which will hire its own crews.
When asked why the county wanted to continue to follow the path of deconsolidation, possibly close stations, draw down its forces to three-man crews that cannot enter burning homes unless there is a confirmed victim inside and shrink crews even further in other parts of the county, consultant Mary Walker said it came down to control.
“The bottom line is that we are in a position that we have no control over our expenditures,” Walker said. “It’s a very dangerous position.”
She admitted, however, that in the coming fiscal year the new fire districts have no unexpected expenditures, including labor costs.
“We have no control over labor negotiations,” she said.
Reno Councilman Dave Aiazzi questioned her about that issue.
“My point is, if you already know what is going to be,” Aiazzi said. “The labor costs are not going up. What part do you not have control?”