City approves new fire-service agreement

The Ridgecrest City Council agreed at its April 16 meeting to approve a service agreement with the Kern County Fire Department to continue contract services for the city of Ridgecrest.

The agreement calls for a minimum service level of six on-duty personnel at two fire stations in Ridgecrest and also provides for “backup” services for situations when firefighters from outside of city limits come to help during emergencies.

The net cost of $382,557 for fiscal 2012-13 was funded using fire fund property tax revenues and any in-kind payments made by the city on behalf of the county. The city will compensate the county $400,000 per year for fiscal years 2013-14 through 2015-16 because of Kern’s reported fiscal hardship, stated a staff report.

“These services reduce homeowners’ insurance costs and provide a level of protection to the citizens of Ridgecrest,” said Ridgecrest Finance Director Rachelle McQuiston.

In response to a previous concern of Vice Mayor Chip Holloway, McQuiston said that the fire department has agreed to provide response times and type of calls.

After noting that the contract has an April 1 notification deadline for upcoming costs and an “automatic renewal unless terminated with written notice 365 days in advance of termination,” Holloway asked what happens “if on April 2 we see we’re not going to like the upcoming year, is it an anniversary renewal date?”

“The plan is that we will go into negotiations before this current contract ends, so we will know before how much it will cost us in future years and give us the time to give our notice if we so choose,” McQuiston replied.

Hollway also wondered about the exact definition of “minimum service level” as opposed to “normal service level.”

Resident Tom Wicknich asked if the agreement would maintain the same the level of service the city has now for the next three years. “They do a great job and I just want to make sure it continues.”

McQuiston said it would.

The motion passed unanimously by the four attending Council Members. Councilman Jim Sanders was absent. In closing, Councilwoman Acton addressed the firemen directly, “Thank you for what you do, I sat with some Cal fire guys and they had nothing but good things to say about our Kern County crews.”

Holloway later praised McQuiston for her tireless work with Kern County Fire Department in hammering the agreement out, calling it, “not perfect, but much more palatable than the original.” He listed the provision for reporting call history, narrowing the window for automatic renewal by requiring that the county notify well in advance of projected increases, and a term reduction from twenty years to multiple five-year options as positive points.

“I’m still concerned that we haven’t established a true baseline of services, but no sense destroying the good for want of the perfect. Overall I think it’s a fair contract that protects the residents both literally and financially.”

Story First Published: 2014-05-07