(Jim Clark) – What drama. Washoe County recently gave Reno official notice of termination, effective July 1, of the 10-year-old contract under which Reno managed all fire protection services in the Truckee Meadows. The reason given was unsustainable costs, specifically the Reno Firefighter Union’s demand that every fire engine have a four-man crew despite the fact that the Sparks and North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection Districts have three-man “flex” crews.
A pretty pricey demand since Reno firemen earn up to $149,854 per year and battalion chiefs earn up to $296,293 per year. Did I mention plus medical and life insurance for life? Did I mention that Reno’s operating costs are so high they have had to close (“brown out”) city fire stations?
Representatives of the two governments recently set a new record for public stupidity as meetings were arranged, only to have one side or the other just not show up, which left negotiators with nothing to negotiate and no one with whom to negotiate.
Discussions on arrangements for city firefighters to answer nearby emergencies in county “islands,” such as Hidden Valley and Caughlin Ranch, are going nowhere so residents are facing the prospect of watching their house burn down while a Reno fire engine drives by.
As the deadline loomed, headlines recently announced that the City of Reno received a multi-million dollar federal grant for fire protection services. The windfall allows Reno to retain all the firefighters it planned to lay off July 1 (at least for the two-year duration of the grant). So is this a just-in-time miracle from Washington, or is it more like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – NV) wrote a big check from the account that you, I and all other taxpayers all share to bail out Reno?
A couple of years ago, City Mayor Bob Cashell took a few barbs for chairing Republicans for Reid, but miracles have a way of coming around when needed if you’re the kind of politician who goes along to get along.
The problem is that Washoe County was primed to hire all the laid off Reno firefighters as it rolled out its own fire department and now must look at importing trained firefighters from elsewhere. This means the grant doesn’t solve any problems and will leave Reno overstaffed while the county has to go out and recruit.
How did we ever get into this mess? Correction: How did they ever get into this mess? (I’ll explain the correction below).
Up to 1999, Washoe County Commissioners controlled the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District (later, the Sierra Fire Protection District was added to the mix). It is these two that have been managed by the Reno Fire Department. When the breakup became imminent, county commissioners started flashing their egos, only to be matched by Reno City Council egos. That fueled the publicity we are hearing so much about.
The correction above is because Incline/Crystal Bay has what residents of Galena, Washoe Valley, Hidden Valley, Caughlin Ranch and other communities wish they had . . . an independent fire board with locally elected directors.
The North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District is generally believed to be one of the top fire districts in the US. Sure, they have a great board, a great chief and terrific staff, but the fact that the board answers directly to its constituents instead of a board of commissioners or city council gives it the structure by which they can excel in a far more challenging environment than the Truckee Meadows.
Next time someone tells you consolidation can save money, tell him this story. Look what those folks down there have paid already and there’s more bloodshed coming.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and a member of the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees)