Mountain House leaders examine fire contract
by Denise Ellen Rizzo
Sep 13, 2013 | 3277 views | 0 0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MOUNTAIN HOUSE — The Mountain House Community Services District Board of Directors placed South County Fire Authority on notice Wednesday, Sept. 11, that it plans to cancel the town’s fire service contract by 2015.

General Manager Janice McClintock said the only way the district can review the contract between the community services district and the fire authority is to make such a move. She said Mountain House is paying too much for its fire service.

McClintock said the town needed to update its contract, which hasn’t been evaluated since 2002.

“As we were going through the budget process, I had identified to you guys that I had concerns about the percentages of the budget that were going to various different public safety expenses,” McClintock told the directors. “And investigating the (fire) contract, we found out that we did have the ability in the contract to request an audit.”

Acting on that information, McClintock said the district engaged the Stockton-based auditing firm of Croce & Co. to report on the fire services charges for Fiscal Year 2011-12. She said the firm found “irregularities” in the fire contract.

“I’m concerned we’re paying 15.8 percent of the total (service) bill for the Tracy Fire Department when we have less than 6 percent of the calls for service,” she said.

Mountain House Community Services District pays $2.3 million annually for its fire service, according to Tracy Fire Chief Al Nero.

McClintock presented to the board two staff recommendations: first, to give SCFA and the city of Tracy notice that the district will be exercising its two-year notice to cancel the contract, and second, to direct the general manager and Thomas Terpstra, district counsel, to negotiate with those entities to resolve the irregularities in the fire building report by the end of October.

Both recommendations were unanimously approved by the board of directors.

Speaking on behalf of the fire department, Nero told the board, “It’s important to note that the auditor found no violations in the current contract.”

He said the auditor wrote in a report that the contract was “in accordance with the fire protection services agreement.”

On the issue of service calls, Nero told the board 14 percent of the fire calls in Mountain House required one to five additional engines. He said the extra manpower came with no extra charge, which is similar to a mutual aid agreement.

In addition to Mountain House, SCFA provides fire service to the city of Tracy and its surrounding rural areas

When it comes to service, Nero said the fire department’s track record speaks for itself.

“South County Fire Authority has been serving the community of Mountain House for 11 years now, and during that time, there’s been hundreds, if not over a thousand, responses, and during that time there was one complaint,” he said. “That was a misunderstanding between a resident and a firefighter. That’s a very remarkable record.”

After the meeting, Nero said outside the Mountain House government building that he believes the termination notice is an effort to modify the contract between the SCFA and the community.

“We will negotiate in good faith,” he said. “We think it’s in everybody’s best interest to be part of this (fire system).”

He attributed the board’s action to changes in the community services district management.

“They have a new general manager and I believe she is looking to see where she can reduce costs for the community of Mountain House,” Nero said, “and this is one of those things she is looking at.”

•Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or drizzo@tracypress.com.

 
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