Salida fire board approves lifetime medical benefit for county fire warden

Salida fire Chief Dale Skiles
Salida fire Chief Dale Skiles Modesto Bee

The Salida Fire Protection District board voted Monday to approve lifetime medical benefits for Stanislaus County Fire Warden Dale Skiles.

Skiles will receive the health coverage for himself and dependents upon retirement, and the coverage will continue for the rest of his life.

Salida board members and their attorney took questions from people attending the meeting, who asked how Skiles, a county employee, can receive the benefit from the special district.

Board members said Skiles still held the title of Salida fire chief after he went to work for the Modesto Regional Fire Authority in 2011 and later took a job as county fire warden.

Salida’s fire personnel were required to resign from the district and work for MRFA when the district entered the joint powers authority with Modesto and the county. But the regional agency folded three years later, requiring Salida to rebuild its staff.

The Salida board drew up the resolution for Monday’s meeting to settle the issue of who is entitled to lifetime medical and cap the district’s cost for the benefit, which could cost the district $16,000 a year for a retiree and spouse. Lifetime medical has been offered for Salida employees hired before Jan. 1, 2003.

According to the resolution, Capt. Gary Skiles, Dale’s brother, is entitled to the benefit since accepting an offer to return to work for Salida. Former Capt. Doug McCullough turned down a rehire offer from Salida and stayed with Modesto Fire Department, which was the employer of record for MRFA.

Former Capt. Greg Bragg said he responded to Salida’s rehire offer by retiring a few years early and claiming the lifetime medical. Bragg said he was told he would lose the benefit if he continued working for Modesto fire.

Two other Salida retirees receive the benefit: John Brubaker and Dave Boyd, a current board member who didn’t participate in the discussion and the 4-0 vote approving the resolution.

Since the matter appeared on the Feb. 7 meeting agenda, some have questioned the fairness of approving the benefit for Dale Skiles.

“To offer that benefit to him does not seem prudent,” said Mark Stone, a Salida community member.

McCullough, who was hired by Salida before 2003, has said he’s denied the benefit as an employee for another agency and wonders how a county employee could receive it.

“I hope there is more follow-up on that part of it, but I’m not sure who would do that,” McCullough said. “It doesn’t smell right.”

District Legal Counsel William Ross said the county fire warden is eligible as a contract employee of Salida. Board member Mark Brubaker said the district still needed a fire chief after MRFA was created and documents show that Skiles attended board meetings as chief while working for MRFA.

Dale Skiles has county pension benefits under his employment contract with Stanislaus County, which doesn’t offer lifetime medical. The county pays him an additional 10 percent on his salary for carrying dual roles as fire warden and Salida chief. Salida reimburses the county up to $25,000 a year for Skiles’ time.

Another issue are employee handbooks stating that the district’s health benefits are for full-time employees. McCullough said the board has not adequately shown that the county fire warden works full-time for Salida.

Skiles, who was not present during the discussion, said after the meeting he was waiting for the board to inform him of the decision. “I understand there was no change in direction,” Skiles said. “I appreciate the opportunity to serve the communities of Salida, Del Rio and Wood Colony.”

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16

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