Board members at the 9 a.m. Tuesday meeting at the County Administration Building, 481 Fourth St., are set to weigh an agenda item to provide direction on potential consolidation, in light of Calfire’s warning in October that it might pull the plug on a decades-long relationship providing contracted service to the county.
County Administrative Officer Rich Inman has been meeting with Hollister officials about the city’s ability to provide fire service for the county, according to a staff report. The City of Hollister has submitted a draft program with benefits including a reduced cost of about $78,000 annually, expanded service, seamless communication, no administrative costs, involvement of the San Juan Bautista Fire Department and “more local control,” according to the staff report.
The county report did not provide other details regarding budget calculations or its expectations for improvements. The potential movement, meanwhile, is a sharp contrast to the approach taken on possible law enforcement consolidation – for which the county and city paid $20,000 on an outside consultant to study pros and cons of a merger, a process that took longer than a year.
The consideration comes on the heels of October’s board meeting where it became apparent Calfire and San Benito County officials were not seeing eye to eye on a future deal beyond the current agreement that expires in June. Calfire officials have expressed interest in extending the deal and continuing service under the so-called “Amador Plan” for coverage.
Currently, the county’s service calls for one engine company on Fairview Road. The county has had the agreement in place since the late 1950s, but Calfire officials contend that they have asked for a definitive coverage plan, to no avail, since 1981.
Calfire officials in October expressed concern that an Oct. 5 deadline had passed for the state to have adequate time for a transition to the Amador Plan. Rick Hutchinson, Calfire’s unit chief for San Benito-Monterey unit, at the time argued that county leaders during prior budget hearings approved the new plan for coverage. With an annual contract cost of $1.2 million now, he said it would increase the figure for next fiscal year by $109,000 because of the transition, but that the number would decrease to $850,000 the following year.
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