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Consolidated Fire Services
Fire safety services are an important part of our community but they require sizable investments in equipment and personnel. Currently the City of Ukiah Fire Department is working with the Ukiah Valley Fire District in an effort to consolidate overhead for the two organizations while maintaining comprehensive coverage for both the City and surrounding valley.
The goal for this cooperative effort is to evolve into a governing and financial model providing for the two departments to work as one. The two groups working together are now referred to as the
Ukiah Valley Fire Authority (UVFA).
More details of the project can be found below.
Project Synopsis as of April 2015
In an effort to make fire service for the Ukiah Valley as efficient as possible, two local agencies, the City of Ukiah and the Ukiah Valley Fire Department, have been exploring the possibility of combining efforts as they once did, about 20 years ago. After all, both agencies have the same goals—to protect—the same general jurisdiction. On major calls, both agencies respond and support each other through what is referred to as an auto aid agreement. It seems to make sense to eliminate duplications where possible.
What’s Been Done to Date
- The City and District entered a two-year interim operating agreement to create a single administration and combined fire department, known informally as the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority. This agreement was extended to June 30, 2016 at the June 3, 2015 City Council meeting.
- Each agency has retained its own personnel and equipment ownership; a Fire Chief is shared, as are two coordinated fire stations serving the City and the District. All employees are supervised by the Fire Chief, and the City has added money to the District’s budget to equalize pay rates.
Prior to entering into the interim agreement, both the City and District acknowledged that some form of contract and/or joint powers agreement (JPA) would need to be devised for a long-term relationship between the two agencies. One of the options explored was formation of a single fire district including the territory of the Ukiah Valley Fire District and City of Ukiah combined.
The Findings after One Year
At a joint meeting of the Ukiah City Council and Ukiah Valley Fire District Board held March 10, findings from the study exploring the single district option indicated that this option would not be possible, due to a number of factors. The presentation can be found on the City of Ukiah website if you would like to see it firsthand.
- The Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO), which authorizes boundary changes and annexations, must approve of the formation of a single district; the report revealed that neither the City nor the District could meet LAFCO requirements for a single district.
- Currently, the District’s revenue sources do not appear adequate to meet future cost increases for services. Neither partner is in the position to support the other, as the study showed. The City is not in a position to allocate a significantly larger share of its general fund to make up for shortfalls in revenue from the District. The City of Ukiah has struggled to balance its general fund for the last seven years. It may well face significant additional deficits in the future. Substantial general fund cuts have been made since 2008, including permanent wage cuts for all employees of the city.
- There are major costs associated with the retirement plans for the agencies if they are merged.
The independent analysis of the agencies reveals that, for now, the best approach is for the employees to remain on the payroll of their current employer rather than being employed by a fully merged JPA.
For a successful merger, both the City and the District must have equal long-term fiscal stability, and agree upon both governing and contract methods that will provide for a sustainable relationship. The report included measurements and options that will be discussed as the two groups continue to work together. Each agency has selected an Ad/Hoc committee to work on these issues beginning April of 2015.