A former mayor and a current city councilman Monday night urged a go-slow approach to a proposed merger of the city Fire Department with two fire districts.
Councilman Farrell Jackson said he could not support the merger if it would mean substantial assessments on Oakdale residents and businesses to pay for fire services.
Former Mayor Pat Kuhn said the city needs to involve residents more as it considers combining its department with the Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District and the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District. “When you’re making a decision this big, you should have the community’s trust,” she said.
They spoke at an informal meeting on the proposal, which would result in one large agency providing fire and emergency medical services in much of central and eastern Stanislaus County.
The idea arose as officials struggle with rising demand on the services and sluggish revenue. The three bodies would have to get approval from the Stanislaus Local Area Formation Commission. The combined agency would be funded in part through regular property taxes, a small slice of the basic annual rate of 1 percent of assessed value. Stanislaus Consolidated and Oakdale Rural have extra charges, and the city has fire-related charges for some areas.
One proposal is to have Stanislaus Consolidated apply its assessments to the entire service area of the combined agency. This year, it is $261.97 for most homes and various amounts for businesses. Jackson, who previously served as mayor, said he is open to the merger idea but does not like that detail. “Everyone struggles in the city, not just residents but businesses,” he said. “I’m not willing to impose a fee like that.”
Another option is for the combined fire agency to get some of the general tax income that Oakdale has been putting into its Fire Department, said Cathy Dominico, a managing partner with Capitol Public Finance Group, the Roseville-based firm that analyzed the numbers.
She said the merger could increase the annual budget surpluses needed for upgrading of stations, equipment and other assets.
Stanislaus Consolidated already manages the other two fire forces under contract, and the city and Oakdale Rural partner on staffing a station.
Stanislaus Consolidated, created by a merger of smaller agencies in 1995, serves a 217-square-mile area that includes Riverbank, Empire, Waterford, Hickman, La Grange and the Beard Industrial District near southeast Modesto. Oakdale Rural covers 239 square miles, including Valley Home and Knights Ferry. The city department covers 5.5 square miles.
Fire officials have talked often in recent years about the benefits of mergers. 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.