Groveland Community Services District leaders now have some numbers to work with as they decide whether contracting with Cal Fire is a viable option for the future of district fire services.
Representatives from the state firefighting agency presented several proposals to the district Board of Directors during a special meeting Tuesday night, giving directors and members of the public an idea of how the local department might look should it be staffed by the state.
The board requested the meeting with Cal Fire as it works to restructure the department in the wake of losing about a third of the district’s fire budget in June.
Cal Fire Chief Brian Kirk outlined three options. Under each, personnel, administration, training and other labor costs would be covered by the contract. GCSD would have to pay for and maintain equipment, which would still belong to the district, as well as cover pay and training for volunteers and reserves, Kirk said.
The proposal that received much of the attention Thursday was called a “Schedule A” type contract. Under that, Cal Fire would employ five full-time firefighters at the Groveland Fire Department station. That’s the same number it currently employs, which would keep two on at the station 24 hours a day.
That contract would cost about $717,000 a year, Kirk said, but would maintain the level of service with Cal Fire management running the unit. He also said the district’s five union firefighters could assume those positions.
“It would be exactly like what you have now,” he said, adding it “would maintain that engine coverage under the same rules of engagement.”
The other options include one modeled after Amador County which would simply keep Cal Fire’s Groveland station open year-round instead of during fire season, making that the sole community fire service. That would cost about $208,000 per year, though Kirk said there would be a drop in service.
“I’m not going to kid you, there is a risk associated with that plan,” he said.
Kirk said a hybrid of the two is also an option. The Groveland Fire station would be fully staffed from May to November and staffed with one captain during the other months. Cal Fire’s would be staffed year round as it is in the summer. That plan would cost about $608,000.
He said reiterated the GCSD board would have final say in issues like the level of service and policy in a contract situation.
“We still take direction — from a policy perspective, from a response perspective, from a level-of-service perspective — from your governing body,” Kirk said.
Department changes are inevitable, as the fire department lost a large portion of its $1.2 million annual budget as of July 1. Voters in the district rejected Measure D, a June ballot measure to replace a 10-year assessment that supplemented regular property taxes funding department operations.
The district board is still weighing multiple options on top of a state contract, including two separate budgets proposed by a special fire committee formed in June. Both claim to keep expenses below the approximately $900,000 in property taxes the department will receive now that the assessment is gone.
One proposes numerous cuts in capital and maintenance expenses, as well as overtime, and it replaces the paid reserve program with a paid firefighter internship. It also includes additional revenue streams from a fee-for-service program for unusual and traffic-related services and an active auxiliary program for fundraising.
The other budget maintained all five of the department’s union firefighters. It also proposed making the chief position part-time, cutting an administrative assistant, deeper pay and benefit cuts and a decrease in overtime.
Both assume some union concessions, and district management has been meeting with leadership from Operating Engineers Local No. 3 on possible amendments to the department’s contract.
If a Cal Fire contract is OK’d, it would take some time before the state took over personnel. The district and state would not have to form a completely new agreement, since it would work as an amendment with Tuolumne County’s existing Cal Fire contract.
Kirk said there is a months-long process of transitioning the employees from the district to the state as their schedules, pay, benefits and classifications are assessed.
While the state is responsible for all benefits earned after the firefighters become Cal Fire employees, the district is still responsible for retirement health care accrued before that point, Kirk said.
GCSD Board President Steve Perreira said members of the board will continue working on budget options and will hold another meeting Aug. 21 to discuss and possibly choose one. The board voted earlier this month to extend fire department funding through Aug. 31.
Cal Fire contract or not, Perreira said, the board needs to have a budget in place by Sept. 1.
“We will have some kind of GCSD budget running our own fire department for some time. The budget committee has some work to do,” he said.
Director Joe Riley, budget committee chairman, said the district needs to get the most service it can with the remaining funds it has.
“Every budget that we can possibly get to take a look at, we will take a look at,” Riley said. “We have to see which of these is going to fit.”