At Adolf Zubia’s final meeting as fire chief of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District, much of the discussion of the seven-person board of directors focused on the fiscal future of the fire service in all of western Nevada County.
A five-year projection compiled by the district forecasts that Consolidated Fire will be $860,000 in arrears by the 2018-19 fiscal year if economic conditions and spending levels persist.
The district will begin operating at a loss as soon as 2015, according to the projection
Chairman Warren Knox said the projection means the district must begin searching for solutions, both long- and short-term.
Knox sought and gained approval from the rest of the board to form an ad hoc committee consisting of himself and board member Ronald Pennington to enter into discussions about consolidating firefighting with other special districts in the western portion of the county as a means of reducing overhead.
There are two ways to achieve such a measure — formal consolidation with other districts or entering into contractual agreements with districts aimed at sharing the costs of management and other overhead items.
“We need to all work together to reduce costs at the highest levels and not at the lowest levels,” Knox said, adding that the fire districts needed to keep firefighters on the ground by cutting administrative costs.
Pennington and Knox will meet with Penn Valley Fire Protection District, which is parting ways with its chief in June 2014, in the hopes of exploring either cost-sharing arrangements or outright consolidation.
Consolidated Fire had been in talks with Grass Valley and Nevada City to share the costs of a new chief, but those talks ground to a halt due to a combination of personal friction among negotiators and timing issues with all three entities.
“It will not happen tomorrow,” Knox said. “It’s a longer range issue, but we need to look at real homogenization.”
Director Mark Bass wondered if sharing the cost of a fire chief is enough to defray the impending debts if the district continues on its current fiscal track.
“If you look at the cost of the fire chief, we are still $800,000 in the hole in five years,” he said.
Jeff Heilmann, a resident from Nevada City, said the fire district has a spending problem as opposed to an income problem and suggested freezing wages, noting that the five-year projection contained $130,000 in increased spending on salaries from 2012-13 to 2013-14 fiscal years.
Director Keith Grueneberg outlined a number of suggestions to reduce costs, including reducing the fire chief’s salary, eliminating a position at station 54, eliminating the district’s contributions to the employees CalPERS benefits and eliminating the medical director position. Board members said they will delve into Grueneberg’s suggestions in more detail during a subsequent board meeting.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.