• JPA for fire services signed: PG is first to do so

    By Marge Ann Jameson

    Pacific Grove has become the first city to sign onto a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) for fire services on the Monterey Peninsula.

    In a special city council meeting on May 12, the council chambers filled with dignitaries from nearby cities as well as the upper echelons of most local fire departments – Chiefs Rawson of Carmel, Hutchison of CalFire and Wombacher of Seaside joined our own Chiefs Mazza of Monterey and Andrew Miller.

    Mayors Chuck Della Sala of Monterey, Ralph Rubio of Seaside and Bruce Delgado of Marina were in attendance, as well as the city managers of Monterey, Fred Meurer, and of Seaside, Ray Corpuz. Jason Burnett, newly elected to the Carmel city council was also on hand.

    It was a unanimous vote.

    “The reality is that we can’t go back to the way it was,” said Mayor Carmelita Garcia. “I ask myself, ‘What can I do to ensure that our services remain the same if not improved?’ We’re going outside the box. It’s the thing to do.”

    The JPA continues the process begun when Pacific Grove made an agreement with the City of Monterey to provide fire services some 18 months ago. The aim of consolidation is to provide the best fire protection available at the least cost for the cities that sign on.

    Since combining forces with Monterey, the result for Pacific Grove has been just that: lower cost, a reduction in workers compensation premiums and claims, according to city manager Tom Frutchey. Those reductions in cost, said Frutchey, are directly attributable to better training and larger administrative staff which Pacific Grove could not afford as a stand-alone fire department.

    Mayor Ralph Rubio of Seaside was pleased with the prospect of saving money by reducing duplication of training costs. He also pointed to the possibilities of pooled equipment purchases. Rubio said that with the recent establishment of the Special Response Unit for the police agencies on the Peninsula and now the fire service JPA, the next steps could be consolidated police and public works.

    Fred Meurer said that building officials and vehicles services were also shared, but that the cities involved would probably not combine planning departments. “It’s what makes each of us unique,” he said.

    There will a single fire chief under the JPA, and for now it’s Sam Mazza. Each jurisdiction will still own its own firehouse. Under the cost allocation model, each city will pay based on its own population and the number of calls.

    Most calls are medical response.

    Mayor Chuck Della Sala of Monterey pointed out that LAFCo had encouraged a JPA as long ago as 1981. “This could mark history,” he said. “Electeds can begin to work together to deliver services at the best level of service and the last cost possible.” He celebrated new ways to deliver services while “maintaining the identities” of the individual communities which will likely join the JPA.

    It was this issue of individual identity that was on the mind of some at the meeting. Pacific Grove City Manager Frutchey assures that, while firefighting personnel will wear an insignia of the JPA, their sleeve badges and hats will mark the name of their individual communities as will the fire engines and trucks. He also pointed out at in the bidding process among firefighters in Monterey, a increasing number have bid for the Pacific Grove station.

    Pacific Grove had disbanded its volunteer fire department, but reinstated the volunteer fire association recently. Under the JPA, each jurisdiction will have the option to maintain volunteer and/or reserve departments at their own expense.

    “We’re already working on bringing back pay-per-call volunteers to go with the volunteer association,” said Frutchey.

    A two-tier system for retirement benefits will likely be enacted, reducing fears of budget crises around CalPERS failures. “We shouldn’t demonize police and fire for having a good labor contract,” said councilmember Ken Cuneo.

    CalFire had also presented a proposal to provide fire service, but fears of the State’s budget deficits and unfunded liabilities were the greatest factor in Pacific Grove’s choice to go with the JPA model instead.

    The JPA will take effect July 1 and should be fully implemented within a year. Other cities are expected to vote on the consolidation soon.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on May 13, 2010

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News


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