Upland Council Backs Negotiating Fire Admin Merger With Montclair

(November27)  The Upland City Council in a 4-1 vote this week directed city manager Stephen Dunn to finalize through further consultation and negotiation with Montclair City Manager Edward Starr the merging of the two adjoining cities’ fire departments’ administrations. The action was taken in the anticipation that the departments’ managerial merger can take place early in 2014 and that the department’s common service boundaries can be eliminated by next July and that the departments can potentially be consolidated entirely at some point in the future.
The Montclair council has already indicated it is amenable to the administrative consolidation in principle. Upon the finalization of the current plan relating to administration, which both cities have already agreed will be undertaken as a two-year pilot program, its terms will be brought back to both city councils for a vote to approve the arrangement.
Upland and Montclair first broached the concept of merging their fire departments in 1993, Upland Fire Chief Rick Mayhew said.
In 2012, both Upland and Montclair were casting about for a way to reduce their respective fire protection costs. At that time the city of Upland contemplated outsourcing options for its fire department, including considering contracting with the city of Ontario, the California Division of Forestry or the county of San Bernardino for fire protection service. Upland also approached Los Angeles County to see if its fire department would provide it with a fire service proposal. Los Angeles County turned Upland down because the California Division of Forestry, also known as Cal Fire, and LA County Fire have an agreement that Cal Fire will not come into Los Angeles County to seek contracts and Los Angeles County has agreed not to go into San Bernardino County or Orange County for contract agencies.
In Montclair, officials previously gave serious consideration to the outsourcing of that 36,664-poulation municipality’s fire department, specifically the concept of dissolving the department in favor of contracting with the San Bernardino County Fire Department or the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
In April 2012, Dunn and Starr resurrected the long dormant discussion of a cooperative agreement between the cities they oversee with respect to fire protection.
The need for cost reductions in all phases of municipal operations in virtually every city in the state has grown over the last six years as a lingering economic downturn has reduced revenues available to cities. Upland and Montclair have been no exception to that trend, and Montclair has been particularly hard hit by the stagnating economy. As a result of the state of California’s shuttering of municipal redevelopment agencies throughout the state, toward the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year, Montclair laid off 10 employees as part of its effort to make up for its loss of redevelopment money. Throughout much of 2010-11, one of the Montclair Fire Department’s paramedic units was parked and the paramedics functioned from the department’s remaining engines, which stayed in service. Over the last year-and-a-half, what was a 27-firefighter department has lost three positions to attrition, and has not filled those vacancies, making up for the manpower shortage with overtime. In September 2012, Starr, in a cost-cutting move that saved the city nearly half a million dollars a year in wages and benefits, elevated police chief Keith Jones to the position of director of public safety and gave fire chief Troy Ament his two-week severance notice. In June of this year, police captain Michael deMoet was appointed to the position of director of public safety, following Jones’ retirement.  deMoet continues to function in the role of Montclair fire chief.
In April of this year, Dunn, Starr, Mayhew and Jones resolved to explore merging administrative staffs and dissolving the fire service boundaries between the two cities. That discussion continued when de Moet succeeded Jones. The agreement as formulated thus far has the support of both cities’ firefighters and their unions.
According to Starr, the Upland firefighters will remain Upland city employees and the Montclair firemen will remain as Montclair city employees. Upland, which boasts a population of 73,732, pays its firefighters higher wages and provides slightly better benefits than Montclair fireman receive. According to Starr, because Upland has twice as many fire stations as Montclair, roughly one-and-a-half times as many firemen, and operates a helicopter, Upland will pick up 64 percent of the command level and accompanying administrative costs under the arrangement, while Montclair’s share will be 36 percent.
At present the city of Upland employs 36 full time firefighters staged out of four fire stations. Montclair fields 24 firefighters and operates out of two fire stations. Upland currently has six full-time and one part-time administrators. Montclair has five full-time administrators. Effective upon the merger, both departments will have 10 full-time and one part-time administrators.
Mayhew will transition into being fire chief of both departments, and will be answerable to the city councils in both cities through each of the city managers. He will oversee the separate budgets for both departments. There is to be a 67 percent to 33 percent split in the cities’ defraying of his compensation, with Upland picking up the lion’s share of that responsibility. The departments will share three battalion chiefs as well as a fire marshal. Each city will retain a deputy fire chief who will not be part of the command sharing.
Starr said the two cities should achieve an initial $260,000 combined annual savings by merging the administrative functions. “My understanding is the savings for Upland are in the $160,000 to $180,000 range,” Starr said. “This could well impact on their overtime costs. In Montclair, we are projecting $120,000 savings in overtime costs. There may be savings we have not fully calculated.”
Starr said the gist of the savings will consist of the economy of scale realized with the elimination of costs netted with the consolidation of the battalion chief and fire marshal functions. Upland will see further savings in that Montclair will “pay a share of the Upland fire chief’s salary.” Moreover, he said, Montclair will “initially pay for two of the three battalion chiefs.”
Once the terms of the deal are formulated in writing, the Upland City Council could vote on ratifying them at its December 9 meeting and the Montclair City Council could vote on the matter at its December 16 meeting.
On November 25, Upland Councilman Glenn Bozar was the lone vote against giving direction to go forward with the merger negotiations with Montclair, stating he wanted to delay consideration of the move  to ensure that the consolidation of the administrative function of the departments would not interfere with cost reduction measures Upland may consider early in 2014, which could potentially involve fire department outsourcing.
The Upland City Council also approved canceling the fire department’s existing dispatch service arrangement with the city of Ontario to instead contract with the San Bernardino County communications center in Rialto, which was recently retrofitted with a state of the art dispatch system.

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