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March 10, 2010 > Possible merger of Union City and Alameda County Fire Departments

Possible merger of Union City and Alameda County Fire Departments

By Shavon Walker

Union City Council held a work session with Alameda County Fire Department (ACFD) at the Ralph & Mary Ruggieri Senior Center on February 25 to discuss proposals that could lead to a contract with Alameda County for fire and paramedic services. Alameda County Fire Chief Sheldon Gilbert communicated the advantages of such an arrangement, as well as the items available to the city that it does not have presently.

In July 2008, the city manager was authorized to sign an agreement for a joint feasibility study for consolidated fire services between Union City and Newark. The study found there would be limited service enhancements and moderate cost reductions for Union City. However, consolidating services between ACFD and Newark Fire Department or ACFD and Union City Fire Department (UCFD) would generate approximate savings of $1M for Union City. Newark and Union City were advised to pursue these partnerships with ACFD via a formal proposal.

On December 21, 2009, Council held a work session to discuss the possibility of contracting fire services with ACFD. Staff agreed to meet with bargaining groups to contain start-up costs, as well as the overall cost, and agreed to schedule a work session in February to allow for public input and to provide information on financial impacts.

Gilbert pointed out the ACFD proposal costs less than Union City's current budget in just about every category. There would be lower expenditures in areas such as annual salaries and benefits ($9,028,361 instead of $9,383,450) and yearly supplies and services would also cost less ($589,563 instead of $768,987). Start-up costs would be amortized at $23,669 per annum over five years. In total, gross cost savings to Union City would be $118,070.

He also noted staffing comparisons. Instead of 17 firefighters, there would be constant staffing by 12, with five absorbed by ACFD and one-and-a-half Battalion Chiefs instead of three, at a shared cost with Newark. No full-time positions are being lost. All full-time positions will carry over or be absorbed into ACFD. An action plan for part-time employees has yet to be decided.

Councilor Carol Dutra-Vernaci wanted to know if maintaining half-time positions might lower costs. According to Gilbert, some employees would remain as city employees, such as clerical workers, and some flexibility is available. No funds have been set aside for accrued leave; other funding sources will be sought to deal with the cost.

Gilbert also addressed concerns about the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which was recognized as an entity within UCFD a few months ago. CERT will remain city-based, able to accommodate approximately 40 Union City police explorers who will take CERT as part of their training.

Mayor Mark Green fully supports a merger between UCFD and ACFD, pointing to the success experienced by other cities.

"We are looking at the community," added Councilor Jim Navarro who also favors a merger. "There are ACFD options such as Hazmat, which Union City doesn't have."

"The training firefighters need is medical and the training they're discussing [through ACFD] isn't based on that... the money is not there. It's a great plan but now is not the time. I don't want to put other departments in jeopardy, especially the police department, and it doesn't make sense to me for the welfare of the community," stated Councilor Dutra-Vernaci who does not support the proposal.

"The reality is here. We don't have $600,000. Staff is creative and can squeeze blood out of a stone but we never know what will happen in the future," said Councilor Manny Fernandez in favor of consolidation.

Vice Mayor Richard Valle pointed out that "the devil is in the details...we need to look at options and see what's negotiable."

Council will make a final decision when it meets on April 27.

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