Cal Fire has put Marysville on notice that it will no longer provide fire protection service to the city after 2014 — leaving City Hall to create a new department or contract with another agency.
In a Wednesday letter to City Manager Walter Munchheimer, Cal Fire said it will not renew its contract with the city when it expires on June 30. A six-month notice provision in the agreement will leave Cal Fire providing service through Dec. 31, 2014.
That means the city will need a new way to provide fire and rescue services by Jan. 1, 2015. Cal Fire has provided fire protection in the city since 1997.
Munchheimer said Thursday he was surprised to receive the letter. But he also noted he was aware of Cal Fire’s concerns about department staffing levels and dispatch services.
“The city of Marysville will continue having a Marysville Fire Department,” said Mayor Ricky Samayoa. “That’s not going to stop. Who provides that service is something that our staff will be working on.”
Cal Fire’s notice came after the city explored the idea of dropping out of the $1.2 million contract in favor of a less costly service. The contract was extended another year last June.
The council also earlier directed city staff to explore the idea of a Linda Fire Protection District takeover of the Marysville department. Linda Fire Chief Richard Webb said last month the district board decided not to move forward.
Webb said Thursday he couldn’t speak for the Linda Fire board, but that he thinks “there is the potential” for an agreement.
“The intention was not to slam the door,” he said. “It was more a concern over contractual issues and not being sure how we could protect ourselves in exposing ourselves to risk.”
Webb said the board might consider an agreement that doesn’t involve a formal contract.
Steve Kroeger, Yuba City’s interim city manager, said his city’s first responsibility is to ensure its residents would continue to have good fire service. But he said there is room for a conversation with Marysville.
“Regional agencies should be open to having conversations with another jurisdiction in need,” Kroeger said.
Munchheimer said city staff will begin meeting after the holidays to analyze options before bringing proposals to the city council.
“We will want to be very thorough in exploring our options, he said.
Samayoa said it isn’t yet known what the proposals will be.
“The analysis will be done, and the staff will bring forward ideas,” he said. “Unfortunately, it will take away from some of the other tasks staff has to do, like Bounce Back (economic development initiative).”
Yuba County Supervisor John Nicoletti, who represents Marysville and has advocated regional services, said the notice could be an opportunity for consolidation.
“I am not discouraged by this,” he said.
Keeping Cal Fire would cost another $450,000
An estimated $450,000 would be needed to prevent Cal Fire from not renewing a contract to provide fire protection for Marysville, City Manager Walter Munchheimer said.
Cal Fire’s notice to do that focuses on two main concerns.
One centers on the city’s difficulty in maintaining a staffing level in which at least three firefighters are on duty for each shift. That level is considered the industry standard.
A Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that enabled Marysville to maintain that level has expired, and in recent months there has been only two on duty per shift. The city has applied for another grant that would provide three-per-shift funding for another two years.
But Munchheimer admitted there is no assurance it will be approved, and grant funding is not a permanent solution.
“It’s actually an issue we agree with,” he said. “We have known this is a concern of theirs, and we share it.”
However, if the grant isn’t approved, Munchheimer said it would take an additional $300,000 the city doesn’t have to pay for the needed staffing.
“It’s more difficult for us to reach because of the state’s salary and benefits schedule,” he said.
Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said Thursday her agency will do all it can to help the city with the transition. But she said reconsidering the notice if the city gets the grant funding “would be a difficult decision to make.”
“Unfortunately, it just comes down to money, and Marysville seems to have problems fiscally every year,” Tolmachoff said. “The grant is nice, but it is just a Band-Aid.”
The second issue centers on a long-standing Cal Fire desire for Marysville to be dispatched through its own regional dispatch center in Auburn. Currently, Cal Fire-Marysville is dispatched by the police department.
Munchheimer said it would cost an additional $150,000 for the city to switch to Cal Fire dispatch.
“It has become evident that these two concerns cannot be resolved in the foreseeable future,” Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said in a letter to the city.
Eric Vodden is a reporter with the Marysville Appeal-Democrat.