Oakdale is ending contract with Stanislaus Consolidated. What’s next for fire service?

Three Alarm Fire In Oakdale

The garage and attic of two homes in Oakdale were damaged in a three alarm fire Monday night. The fire started between the two homes. Oakdale Police were the first to arrive on scene and kicked down the door of one house to wake the sleeping resid
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The garage and attic of two homes in Oakdale were damaged in a three alarm fire Monday night. The fire started between the two homes. Oakdale Police were the first to arrive on scene and kicked down the door of one house to wake the sleeping resid

The city of Oakdale is cutting ties with Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District. And less than two months remain on a service agreement between the fire protection agency and Oakdale’s rural fire district.

Unless something happens to salvage these relationships, residents can expect to see significant changes in emergency response in parts of eastern Stanislaus County.

The Oakdale council decided Wednesday to end an agreement with Stanislaus Consolidated, which has provided emergency service in and around Oakdale since 2014. Stanislaus Consolidated also provides service under a soon-to-expire contract with Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District, whose board members have demanded better terms in any renewal agreement.

The Stanislaus Consolidated board decided Thursday evening to make one more offer to preserve its partnership with the city. But Oakdale’s top administrator said Friday the Cowboy Capital needs to explore other options before the June 30 expiration date for the five-year agreement.

“We have limited time to get something done by July 1,” City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said.

The City Council had sought a one-year extension to carve out time for renegotiating issues that both parties were unhappy with. But the fire district did not agree to the extension, Whitemeyer said.

Council members were forced into the decision of heading for the exit or getting stuck with a bad renewal agreement, he said.

At its board meeting Thursday, Stanislaus Consolidated decided to offer modified terms to Oakdale that did not include an extension. “I would make one more attempt to get an agreement with them,” Board Member Steve Green of Waterford said.

The proposed changes included a three-year renewal agreement with annual reviews instead of five years; chief or staff attendance at Oakdale council meetings; and meetings every other month for the three partners to discuss matters.

Another unresolved item was the cost for Oakdale to cover an unfunded payroll liability for firefighters.

A fire district staff member was to personally deliver the offer to the city Friday.

Under the contracts that expire in June, Stanislaus Consolidated has responded to fires and medical emergencies in the city and the 324-square-mile Oakdale rural district, whose boundaries encompass Valley Home, Knights Ferry and areas north of Modesto Reservoir and north of Woodward Reservoir.

Based in Riverbank, Stanislaus Consolidated also responds from stations within its boundaries to incidents in Modesto, Empire, Waterford and La Grange.

After the recession, Oakdale was struggling to maintain its fire service when the city and rural Oakdale district sought a partnership with Stanislaus Consolidated, ultimately signing agreements that will cost the city $2.42 million in the 2018-19 budget year.

As the end of the five-year deals approached, the Oakdale agencies wanted major changes in renewal agreements; the concerns included the financial situation of Stanislaus Consolidated, cost ramifications of a contract with district firefighters and frequent vacancies in the fire chief’s position.

The city and Oakdale rural proposed a joint powers authority giving them seats on the board and influence over budget decisions, labor and management issues. Leaders of Stanislaus Consolidated said a JPA was studied before the parties chose service agreements as the better option five years ago.

As the partners exchanged proposals this year, Whitemyer said he heard comments the city wasn’t paying enough for the emergency services but an increase in payments was never put on the table.

Whitemyer said the city could hold discussions with another potential agency partner. Another option is restoring the city fire department and making it ready to respond to calls July 1. A contact for Oakdale rural could not be reached Friday to discuss the district’s future with Stanislaus Consolidated.

The city and Oakdale rural are expected to hire back 21 firefighters, employed by Stanislaus Consolidated, in the event their fire departments are brought back to life.

Stanislaus Consolidated board President Susan Zanker talked of holding a special meeting next week to discuss the service contracts. With two county staff members sitting in the audience, Zanker and two other board members favored making the final offer to Oakdale.

Dave Woods, vice president of the five-member board, disagreed with the majority, saying the city made its decision and “we need to move on and work on improving the district.”