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March 10, 2010 > Letter to the editor: Merger will reduce services to community

Letter to the editor: Merger will reduce services to community

I have lived in Union City for 35 years. Recently, I learned Union City Fire Department (UCFD) is considering a merger with Alameda County Fire Department (ACFD). In the past, UCFD merged with Fremont Fire Department and ultimately returned to Union City a few years later. Union City incurred millions of dollars in costs associated with the first, unsuccessful merger. I am deeply concerned about this new proposed merger.

I attended the community meeting on February 25. UCFD expressed its interest in this merger since it would allow them to receive additional training and support. During the meeting, Union City Administrative Services Director Richard Digre and Union City Fire Chief Carlos Rodriguez informed the community that Union City will have fewer fire personnel as a result of the merger but access to more equipment and resources. Yet, we currently have access to additional resources through mutual aid. Why pay more for less?

What happens at the end of the five-year contact? The proposal states that "fire personnel will be paid for their vacation and time banks," effectively zeroing out their banks prior to the merger. However, on merging with ACFD, they will miraculously receive a full year in their banks under the new contract.

If the contract fails, do they retain the time banked? Can they ask the city to cash out part of the balance when they return to the city? Council stated that if the merger does not work, the Fire Department will return within 90 days. What is a year of vacation, compensation and sick time worth to the average firefighter? I'd imagine it could costly the city dearly.

Digre indicated that "there might be a desire to contract with ACFD for operational reasons but it will not generate savings over the life of the contract." There is an estimated $800,000 leave-balance payout and a $56,000 annual-cost estimate associated with the merger.

The city anticipates a $1.5M - $1.8M General Fund deficit this fiscal year and a deficit of more than $2M, next fiscal year. According to Digre, a contract with ACFD will limit the city's budgetary flexibility, particularly as it relates to potential employees' wage and benefit concessions. He stated that the burden of General Fund budget cuts would shift to the remaining departments, the largest being the Police Department.

City departments have already frozen positions, made concessions and slashed operational budgets to save jobs and maintain services. Yet the city considers spending an estimated $800,000 - $1M to merge with ACFD? Fremont Police Department does not respond to residential alarms, non-injury collisions and imposes service reductions. I do not want the same to happen in Union City.

This proposed merger and the city's budget will feature during political campaigns for Council and the Board of Supervisors. Union City is one of the few communities that could pass a measure like Measure UU (public-safety parcel tax) during an economic crisis. Measure UU passed because we trust our elected officials. I hope council members do not lose the community's trust by making irresponsible financial decisions for political gain.

Casey Souza
Union City

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