Oakdale closer to merging fire department, districts

jholland@modbee.comSeptember 5, 2013 

    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John
    Email: jholland@modbee.com

— The City Council took a step Tuesday night toward merging the Fire Department with two nearby fire districts to cut costs.

The merger — with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District and the Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District — would result in one agency overseeing fire and emergency medical services in most of eastern Stanislaus County.

The council voted 5-0 to apply to the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission, which rules on the boundaries and functions of public entities. The boards of both fire districts have done the same.

None of them would make a final decision on merging until they get the results of a study, commissioned by Stanislaus Consolidated at a cost of up to $26,000, on the financial effects of a merger.

"It doesn't commit us to anything other than seeing the numbers and how that would look," Councilman Tom Dunlop said.

The proposal could go before LAFCo as early as December.

Fire officials see mergers as a way to deal with increasing demand for services and inadequate tax income.

Stanislaus Consolidated is the product of a 1995 merger of three smaller districts and the county fire department. In 2010, the Modesto Regional Fire Authority was created by a merger of the Modesto and Salida agencies and the county fire warden's office.

Stanislaus Consolidated already manages Oakdale Rural and the city department under contract, and Oakdale Rural partners with the city to staff one station.

These were intended to be temporary arrangements while the merger idea was worked out, said Brian Kelly, interim fire chief, in a memo to the council.

Oakdale has had a city department since 1913, and today it covers 5.5 square miles.

Oakdale Rural, established in 1945, serves 239 square miles stretching to Knights Ferry and Valley Home.

Stanislaus Consolidated covers 217 square miles, including Riverbank, Empire, Waterford, Hickman, La Grange and the Beard Industrial District near southeast Modesto.

Under the proposal, paid and volunteer firefighters in the Oakdale-area agencies would be absorbed into the new operation, and tax rates for property owners would not change.

"Our main goal is to provide a good fire service for the city of Oakdale," Councilman Farrell Jackson said.

The city department has 14 firefighters. Tight finances threatened three of the positions in the proposed budget for 2013-14, but they were maintained thanks to income from Measure O, a sales tax increase that expires in 2015.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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