Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is the best option for handling personnel for the Groveland Fire Department, Groveland Community Services District leaders decided on Tuesday.

The GCSD Board of Directors voted during a continued special meeting to go with one of the Cal Fire contract options for managing the district fire department. The option chosen is known as the Schedule A plan, and will continue the five-person staffing with two firefighters at the Groveland station at all times.

Under the Cal Fire plan, expected to take between six and nine months to implement, the state department will take over personnel duties by contract, including future long-term benefit costs for the firefighters. The duties that were previously handled by a full-time Groveland fire chief and a department administrative assistant will now be handled by local Cal Fire administration.

"This is still going to be the Groveland Fire Department," Director Joe Riley said on Tuesday. "This is basically a personnel contract."

The Cal Fire proposal was approved with support of three directors - Riley, Herman Schaap and Steve Perreira - following months of intense debate among the board and Groveland community members. District leadership started working on restructuring the fire department in June, after a tax proposal that would have raised about $300,000 for department operations failed at the polls.

The tax would have replaced a 10-year special assessment, which raised revenue for the department's $1.2 million annual budget. When the tax measure failed, the GCSD Board of Directors started working in earnest to figure out how to structure the department moving forward.

The board held many special meetings, often filled with community members, and reviewed multiple proposals for department operations. The board president, Roy Conley, and the longtime department fire chief, Shane Warner, both resigned in the midst of those deliberations.

Tuesday's meeting was significantly less heated than a number of the previous meetings, including one last Tuesday that spanned four hours and filled the Groveland fire station.

Though Director John Armstrong has been a vocal critic to a Cal Fire plan since it was proposed in June, even he moved away from full opposition. Armstrong abstained from voting during the meeting, saying that the Cal Fire plan is likely best for the local firefighters.

"Since we do not have a chief at this point, the Friends of Groveland Fire Department budget is shot," Armstrong said, referencing a budget proposed by a local citizens group that would have funded a full-time fire chief.

"For the best fire department for this district, my support goes with the Schedule A," he later said.

It will take between six to eight months to transition the Groveland department over to Cal Fire and amend the county's contract with the state department to include GCSD. All five Groveland firefighters have the option of transitioning to the state department.

GCSD will operate under an interim budget in the meantime, which the board also approved on Tuesday.