(Jim Clark) – Winston Churchill once said: “Democracy is the worst form of government . . . except all others.” He might have omitted the last three words had he observed the Washoe County Commission and Reno City Council in action as they continue their pitiful struggle to provide Truckee Meadows with fire protection services.
To recap, the county earlier contracted with Reno to provide countywide fire protection (excluding Incline/Crystal Bay because we have our own fire district). That contract expired the first of this month because it turned out to be a lousy deal for taxpayers. The primary reason was that the city firefighters union refused to go on calls with less than 4 firefighters per truck. At an annual cost of about $125,000 per firefighter that came to a tidy sum considering the number of fire engines involved and the fact that Incline/Crystal Bay and Sparks fire engines have 3 person crews.
The current struggle between the county and Reno is the issue of “automatic aid”, an arrangement whereby the closest fire engine responds to an emergency regardless of which jurisdiction it belongs to. For several months commissioners and city councilpersons have been wrangling over this because of the potential costs and unresolved reimbursement arrangements to the responding jurisdiction.
This month three commissioners, Weber, Breternitz and Humke, frustrated by intransigence of the Reno Council, voted to place the issue as an advisory question for voters this fall. Commissioners Jung and Larkin dissented. Sparks residents will be excluded from the ballot, but apparently we in Incline/Crystal Bay will vote on this issue, even though it doesn’t affect us at all.
Response was swift. UNR Political Science Professor Eric Herzic said: “It’s a pretty meaningless initiative; the public will say the closest fire truck should come . . . but it doesn’t get into any details about cost, reimbursement . . . or staffing.” TMCC Political Science Professor Fred Lokken said: “This is nuts. This smacks of more politics . . . when we’re dealing with an essential service.”
And in a searing editorial captioned “Pointless ballot question will be counterproductive,” the Reno Gazette Journal recalled that 10 years ago the public was asked whether to lower the train tracks running through Reno. Although the public voted resoundingly “no,” officials borrowed up to the gizzard to lower the tracks anyway. The editorial asks: “who wouldn’t vote for top notch fire services when there is no discussion of costs?”
So the measure just kicks the can down the road to November, after which commissioners and councilpersons will still have to deal with the issue . . . a meaningless delay occurring during the most dangerous fire season in recent memory.
But wait, there’s more. Right after the meeting Commissioner Humke – the swing vote – announced that he wanted to bring a motion for reconsideration of the issue. So the whole thing goes away, right? No. The meeting had adjourned, so action will have to wait for the next meeting.
But don’t bother, Assistant District Attorney Paul Lipparelli told commissioners. The statutory deadline for ballot measures has passed and it can’t be undone.
Then last Thursday, the City Council reacted with a proposed ballot question of their own that would ask Reno voters whether they want to subsidize fire protection in unincorporated Washoe County.
Come on, guys and gals, quit squabbling! Winston Churchill must be longing for the good old days of Henry VIII.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and has served on the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees; he can be reached at email@example.com)