San Juan officials iron out details in proposed fire contract

Firefighters address the blaze in San Juan Bautista in July.

Most San Juan Bautista council members Monday read over a proposed fire contract line by line as if a misspelling or improper acronym might lead to their deaths. Councilman Jim West, who didn’t bother bringing the contract document to the gathering, generally sat back and wasn’t part of the extraordinarily thorough examination.
San Juan council members held a special meeting to discuss revisions to a proposed contract between the Mission City and Hollister for fire services. It was just a discussion item, and San Juan council members expect to consider an official approval at their Nov. 17 regular meeting.
West did make a few comments but wasn’t as precise as others, such as Councilman Rick Edge, during the 100-minute discussion. Edge, for instance, insisted on ironing out details like ensuring consistency throughout the document when referring to Hollister as the “Contractor” and San Juan as “SJB.” Mayor Robert Lund, meanwhile, walked council members through the line-by-line deliberation while they all read the document in silence during long stretches.
Afterward, West reflected on the night.
“I wasn’t going to go line by line,” said West, who contended the city still isn’t getting what officials had been pursuing from the deal, namely a guarantee of having two full-time firefighters staffing the San Juan station at all times and fewer restrictions for reserve firefighters.
San Juan Bautista and the county since mid-2013 have contracted with Hollister for fire department services. Officials with Hollister and the county have agreed on a three-year extension to the deal that ended in June, but San Juan Bautista leaders have gone back and forth with their counterparts over some key details such as those mentioned by West. San Juan council members also didn’t take too well to the City of Hollister’s misspelling of their city’s name in the original draft proposal sent over by Hollister City Manager Bill Avera last month.
The proposed deal with San Juan is retroactive to Oct. 1 and was initially set to cost the Mission City $159,000 the first year with inflation escalators. The city did not make copies of the latest proposal public at the meeting.
At Monday’s special meeting, a continuation of a discussion from earlier this month, most San Juan council members appeared to eventually support the three-year deal with minor changes made during this week’s discussion. But it took a lot of teeth pulling to get to the end of the document as city leaders read through the whole thing together.
Much of the talk revolved around concerns about the section in the proposed contract on staffing. San Juan officials expressed concern about the expiration of a federal grant providing funds for a dozen firefighters on a staff of about 40. The county in the spring of 2013 received a $2.2 million SAFER grant and brought on 12 firefighters for a term of three years each, but there’s no guarantee those positions will be there after the grant expires.
“That obviously is going to have a pretty major effect on the overall staffing of the department,” Edge said.
The chief expressed confidence in either an extension to the grant or other forms of funding to pay for the positions.
“I don’t intend to lose that grant,” Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo said. “I don’t intend to drop staffing. My first intention is going to be some form of appropriations in the budget so I can maintain staffing levels.”
Del Campo also discussed other options such as pursuing a public safety tax.
“I’m going to fight for the funding stream to keep the people employed,” the chief said.
Del Campo also took responsibility for the push to maintain at least two full-time firefighters on every call. He was against a minimum staffing level for the San Juan station, too.
“To put a staffing level on there, it kind of brings me heartburn,” he said.
Officials’ read-through veered in many directions otherwise. At one point, the discussion morphed into Councilman Tony Boch broaching the upcoming expansion of organic giant Earthbound Farm’s facilities—and whether the company could provide additional resources for local fire services. Officials from both sides agreed to look into asking Earthbound for assistance.
By the end of the night, Boch, like most others on the council, was confident in the fire-service relationship.
“I’ve got a better feeling now that we can trust these guys,” he said.

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