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New fire chief could oversee agency mergers

The appointment of Tony Clarabut Tuesday as Grass Valley’s interim fire chief is expected to produce a new organizational alignment for the department with other area fire districts.

“There is talk about bringing fire departments closer together organizationally,” Clarabut said. “Operationally, they’ve been doing that for quite a while, so this would be the next step.”

The 54-year-old Clarabut will make $66 an hour for one year starting today with the city, including $8 per hour for not receiving paid holidays, sick leave and other normal benefits, City Administrator Dan Holler said.



With the Grass Valley job, that means Clarabut could make an additional $63,360 beyond his state pension income and medical benefits, bringing his income for the 2008-09 fiscal year to well over $150,000.

Clarabut also will help area departments plan for leadership as their key officers approach retirement in the next five years and younger people are groomed to step in.




“We want to establish an organization before they leave so we can train people for leadership roles from the inside,” said outgoing Grass Valley Fire Chief Jim Marquis. “We have some very talented people who need a map, and they probably want to see where the ship’s heading.”

Shared administration possible

Since 1997, Grass Valley, Nevada City and Nevada County Consolidated fire departments have operated under an agreement in which the closest resource of any three is sent to a blaze, according to Tim Fike, the consolidated chief. The departments often back each other up and respond to the same emergencies.

Options for the Grass Valley and county fire departments include a joint powers agreement in which administration is shared, or both departments could be folded into one, Clarabut said.

Nevada City also could be in the picture, Clarabut said, but Fire Chief Sam Goodspeed said he has not been approached about any consolidations or further joint ventures.

“Nevada City is in pretty good shape after I cut my budget 5 percent and our volunteer base is good,” said Goodspeed, who added he would listen to such proposals.

The long history of the city departments “has to be strongly considered” in any discussions, Clarabut said.

Discussions between Grass Valley and Consolidated already have occurred, and the possible reorganization is a “winter project,” Fike said.

“We’ll look at all the options to make it most efficient and to get the best bang for the taxpayers’ buck,” he said.

Such work won’t be new for Clarabut.

He went to Ukiah to reorganize that city’s fire department after retiring here in 2006, helping to forge an operational agreement between Ukiah and surrounding departments.

The possible organizational changes here come in the wake of Grass Valley Fire Chief Jim Marquis taking another firefighting job in Washoe County, Nev. Marquis’ last day is July 25.

Savings for city

Clarabut retired in 2006 as the chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s unit in Nevada, Placer and Yuba counties. His pension from the state Public Employees Retirement System is in the $90,000 to $95,000 range, Clarabut said, but he could not remember the exact figure.

Outgoing Chief Marquis is earning $56.78 an hour plus benefits from Grass Valley – less than Clarabut’s compensation of $66 per hour.

The $8 hourly included in lieu of benefits is a savings to the city, which normally would pay an additional 50 percent of salary to cover insurance and other perks, Marquis said.

The interim chief can work up to 960 hours yearly – limited because he is drawing a pension and medical benefits. He will work part-time, possibly 20 hours per week for 48 weeks, Clarabut said.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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