After months of talks, three Nevada County fire agencies unveiled sweeping plans Thursday for a shared administrative operation headquartered at Grass Valley City Hall.
“I’m very comfortable that we have the right group now to make it happen,” said Nevada City Councilman Duane Strawser at a joint meeting with the three participating fire jurisdictions, Nevada City, Grass Valley and Nevada County Consolidated Fire District. “This should have been accomplished a long time ago.”
Penn Valley Fire Protection District, which had been part of earlier talks, has opted not to join the new shared operation — although they and other local fire agencies have the choice to join in later, said Interim Grass Valley Fire Chief Mark Buttron.
“They felt they had obligations to their constituents that they could not meet with the planned program,” Buttron said of Penn Valley.
Penn Valley Fire Board Chairman Kurt Grundel could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
After Thursday’s presentation at Grass Valley City Hall, a “working group” of elected officials and city managers from the three jurisdictions agreed to take the plan back to their respective boards and councils. Meanwhile, a “technical group” of professional fire officers will prepare the legal contracts and further details.
If all goes as planned, the new agency could start recruitment for a chief by Oct. 1.
“We’ve thought about this for so long, I’m surprised it was so easy,” said Grass Valley Mayor Dan Miller after the presentation.
Besides Miller and Strawser, other elected officials at Thursday’s meeting included Consolidated board members Warren Knox and Bill Habblett and Grass Valley City Councilwoman Jan Arbuckle. Grass Valley City Manager Bob Richardson and Nevada City Manager Mark Prestwich were also part of the group.
Under the plan, prepared by the “technical group” led by Buttron, Consolidated Division Chiefs Jim Turner and Jerry Funk and Nevada City Chief Sam Goodspeed, a single fire chief would be hired, with offices at Grass Valley City Hall.
The fire chief would report to a three-person board of the two city managers and a board member from Consolidated.
“We couldn’t have a fire chief work for a 15-person board,” Buttron said.
Daily operations at the shared agency’s seven fire stations would be overseen by a single division chief for each of the three eight-hour shifts over a 24-hour cycle. Each of the seven stations would have a two-person engine on duty for all three shifts.
Current administrative staff from the three fire agencies would relocate to Grass Valley City Hall to be in the same office with the new chief. That relocation would probably not take place until the chief is hired and almost in place.
For planning purposes, the technical group assigned a base salary of $150,000 for the new chief — or $221,500 with full benefits.
“We’re just using the worst case (most expensive) scenario,” Richardson said. “We haven’t yet decided on a chief’s salary.”
According to the plan and the relative budgets of the three jurisdictions, the cost of the chief’s salary would be borne 32 percent by Grass Valley, 8 percent by Nevada City and 60 percent by Consolidated.
“This is a monumental effort (by the “technical group”) to narrow down all the ideas into two options to be the benchmark,” said Pat Nelson, a member of the Consolidated Citizens Oversight Committee, who was in the audience. “Great job.”
Nelson was referring to a second option to have the headquarters at Station 54 on Providence Mine Road in Nevada City. The Nevada City representatives opposed that option because it would mean shutting down firefighting operations at the station and just using it for administration since the station is too small.
“The closure of Station 54 (to operations) would be problematic,” Prestwich said.
He said a “hybrid” plan of having the headquarters at Station 54 and also maintaining operations would require adding on new construction. The city did not have funds for that at this time, he said.
Grass Valley City Hall has room for the chief and additional staff in its existing fire administrative office — although the ceilings could ideally be a little higher.
“We can’t hire a chief who’s over 6 feet, 3 inches,” quipped Miller.
Buttron said while there may be some cost savings, “it’s not going to be a windfall.”
Knox said employee retirement costs from CalPERS are rising 10 percent over the next five years, meaning that budgets will still be very tight.
“We want to maintain the same levels of service,” Knox said. “But this (CalPERS increase) will impact our agencies very deeply.”
Buttron and Knox, in the presentation, stressed that the three fire agencies were already operating as a single unit for the past 13 years, since a joint operating agreement has been in place.
“We have one of the best functioning interagency fire departments of all time,” Knox said. “Boundaries are already dropped.”
With the success of the joint operational aspect, officials said they were hopeful that the sharing of administrative services would also go smoothly.
“We have to do this,” Arbuckle said. “The whole purpose is to provide the best fire service for our constituents.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.