Local officials consider fire district

A fire truck slowly makes its way through the flood waters on Lovers Lane during the recent storm.

Local officials this week took one step closer toward creating a special district fire department for the county.

Officials from San Benito County and Hollister approved of participation in a feasibility study for a special fire district or joint powers authority.

Currently, the Hollister Fire Department contracts to provide services to San Benito County, the City of Hollister and the City of San Juan Bautista. Consideration of a joint powers authority, or special district fire department, recently came about due to funding concerns.

The three jurisdictions entered into the current fire contract in 2013. They renewed in 2015, but it is set to expire in September 2018.

“It’s never been the intention of this county or the city of San Juan or Hollister to continue under a contract relationship,” County Supervisor Anthony Botelho said Tuesday. “What needs to happen for sustainable fire protection services in the county is to move to a joint powers authority where we’re sharing the risk, the cost, the liability and improving services throughout the whole county.”

The approach to fire service has been substandard, Botelho said.

“This is part of the effort to move in a more positive direction and hopefully evolve into a fire district in which there’ll be additional funding available to provide a higher level of service,” he said. “In order to get there, I think we have to show the public that we’re able to jointly work together.”

Costs of the study are split among the three jurisdictions. San Benito County and Hollister are each responsible for 40 percent of the study costs, while San Juan Bautista is responsible for the remaining 20 percent. The county is responsible for $22,000, according to the staff report. Hollister City Manager Bill Avera informed council members Tuesday the city would pay around $24,000.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he was excited to see the feasibility study move forward.

“I think this is something we’ve been talking about for a while,” Velazquez said. “I’m excited to see this come forward.”

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