A plan to reorganize the Tracy Fire Department may be all that stands against the city losing tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue to the county.
On Tuesday during the regular meeting of the City Council, interim City Manager Randall Bradley, who is also the fire chief, briefed the council members on a planned joint powers agreement between the city and the Tracy Rural Fire Protection District. The two entities are already in a JPA created in 1998 that consolidated the city and rural fire departments into the South County Fire Authority.
Though the departments’ assets are combined, a five-member elected board still runs the Tracy Rural Fire Protection District while the council and City Manager control the Tracy Fire Department.
“A couple of things have occurred that has driven a re-evaluation of our governance model,” Bradley said to the council.
The rural district is financially responsible, using taxes paid by rural residents, to cover the areas where Tracy’s population is expanding quickly — including the Tracy Hills development, which is under construction now, and the International Park of Commerce owned by Prologis.
“Tracy Hills was supposed to go at that time,” Bradley said, referring to the 1998 agreement. “Of course, that was 18 years ago, and we just signed the (development agreement) I think last year. So there was a big delay there. And the Prologis area was not contemplated in its current form.”
Bradley said that because of that growth, the board of the rural district wants more of a say in operational matters.
“‘We feel as if the city has all the authority and all the control over fire protection,’” Bradley said, paraphrasing the rural board’s sentiments. “‘Because of our fiduciary responsibility, we should share in that control and that authority.’”
He said the rural board could vote to leave the current agreement and go it alone if the governance model doesn’t change. If that happened, the city fire department would lose an estimated $26 million in tax revenue from areas covered by the rural district.
Bradley added that the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, which released a report in 2011 saying it had issues with the 1998 agreement, could also hold up Tracy’s desire to annex more land if things don’t change. He told the council he believed the new agreement would better suit LAFCo, though that commission has not yet approved it.
He said the four-member board of the new organization — contemplated to include two members of the City Council and two members of the rural board — would hire the fire chief for the department.
“The JPA board would serve as the true governance body,” Bradley said.
Though the city would no longer employ a fire chief, it would continue to be the employer of all the firefighters until a future time when the new organization may decide to hire the entire department and become a standalone agency.
In the end, the council voted to create a new JPA with the rural fire district, called South San Joaquin County Fire Authority, which goes into existence March 1. Minutes later, in a separate vote, they dissolved the current South County Fire Authority JPA as of July 1.
Both the council and the rural board wanted to allow some overlap time to adjust to the new governance. The new board of the South San Joaquin County Fire Authority will hire a fire chief — which Bradley said might not necessarily be him — at a future date.