The Davis City Council voted 3-1 Tuesday to approve shared management of fire services with UC Davis, essentially agreeing to appoint UCD Fire Chief Nate Trauernicht as the head of the city’s Fire Department, as well as the university’s.
Terms of the joint powers agreement are for only one year, after which the city and university will reassess the structure.
Mayor Joe Krovoza, Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk and Councilman Brett Lee voted in favor of the agreement; Councilman Lucas Frerichs, who spoke strongly against the plan, dissented. Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson was not in attendance.
“The reason I’m going to support the motion, more than any other, is that I think this holds promise of a higher degree of service for the community,” Krovoza said. ”It just goes without saying to me that if you have a set number of people and you get a greater percentage of those people coordinated, you’re going to be able to cover more ground.”
The structure will not result in a full merger of the two departments. If the city and the university opted for consolidation, it would cost UCD about $1.3 million per year because it would have to bring compensation for university personnel in line with the city’s firefighters, who, according to city numbers, receive about $50,000 more in benefits on average.
Shared management will save the city approximately $78,000 annually, with the potential to save more than $200,000 if all three division chief positions are moved over to the university’s benefit plan. The university will save about $7,500 on the deal.
However, those savings include the addition of a new position, the deputy fire chief, who will serve under Trauernicht and run the day-to-day operations of both fire departments.
The city and the university have not yet hired the person who will fill this position, and Lee said that, while he supports the concept of shared management, this hire will play an important role in its success.
“I would like to emphasize the importance of the hiring of a deputy chief,” Lee said. “The hiring of a very strong and robust deputy chief who will be in charge of the day-to-day operations is essential.”
Frerichs offered several arguments against shared management and questioned whether the move truly will enhance service.
His other concerns: the fact that the department has operated without a full-time fire chief for the past three years, the nominal cost savings to the city given the scale of its overall budget and the potential of this agreement being the first domino in a movement to cut even more city services.
“Where does it stop? Does it stop with just the Fire Department? Because I think the answer is ‘no,’ ” Frerichs said. “I would not be at all surprised if the next item that comes before us is to have a joint police chief with the university. I just think there’s a consistent movement of cutting as much as possible.”
Frerichs added that he would prefer to make this decision once more information is gathered about the effectiveness of the boundary drop between the city and the campus and the change in staffing levels at the city’s three fire stations. Both moves were approved recently by the council.
He also said he believes these decisions should be made within the context of budget discussions.
But the council majority preferred the shared management structure proposed by City Manager Steve Pinkerton and former Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley, who said the new structure would improve fire service in the city.
Wolk agreed with Lee about the importance of the deputy chief hire and also said he views this as a one-year trial period.
“I think sharing management services does make sense,” Wolk said. “I think, as has been discussed, it’s not a foreign concept to this council and I think there’s a real synergy to be achieved here.”
The Davis Professional Firefighters Association Local 3494, who said recently it would prefer a full merger, was again in attendance Tuesday. For the past few weeks, firefighters have picketed outside City Council meetings to voice their concerns with the way the city has managed the department over the past few years.
But they weren’t alone in the Community Chambers.
A large contingent of Davis police officers also attended the council meeting, 0nly they were there to support the proposed management structure.
The firefighters, dressed in black T-shirts, sat together on one side of the aisle. Police, donning white T-shirts, sat on the other.
Sgt. Mike Munoz, the police association president, said after the vote that the police union acknowledges the city’s difficult fiscal situation and any savings to the general fund, which funds both police and fire services, affects them directly.
Regarding labor negotiations and the fact that the DPOA signed an agreement months ago, making several concessions in employee benefits, and the fire union still has not, Munoz said the DPOA is concerned and that every day the fire union does not sign a contract, it’s money out of the general fund and out of the pockets of the Police Department.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash