Is contracting out police and fire services the new norm in the North State? The pros and cons.

Jul 14, 2014 7:52 PM by Brian Johnson

Action News Now looked into whether consolidating services like police and fire is a growing trend in the North State.

Cities like Biggs and Live Oak do it, Oroville is considering it, and in December of 2012, the name Paradise Fire was extinguished, transforming into Cal Fire Butte County Fire, as the town decided to contract with the state organization.

"Having the ability to send the closest resource from a single center of dispatch improves efficiency and reduces the time of response," said Cal Fire Butte County Fire Division Chief David Hawks. "And I think it has been a positive thing for all involved."

Hawks said there has been a reduction in costs for the town, while the number of personnel and engines has stayed the same day-to-day.

"There's a give and take," said former Chico City Manager Tom Lando.

Lando said nothing is guaranteed in these types of changeovers, which has Oroville Police and Fire on edge as both departments mull whether to contract out their services.

"They are concerned because one of the reasons you would contract is whoever's contracting would say ‘We don't need four people on that shift, we only need three.'"

Lando said personnel would lose direct access to the decision-makers, thereby losing control over the important aspects of their job.

Lando said losing "local control," is otherwise known as a hollow state, and is the biggest drawback he can see for cities deciding to contract out emergency services.
"Unlike now where city council can say we want you to patrol this specific area today, there's really not that direct control [if services are contracted out]," Lando said.

"You lose kind of the heart of the process when you contract out," said Orangevale resident Martie Lofthus.
"I don't care who does it, just if someone does it," said Chicoan Joe Wesley." "If they have a fire and they put it out, that's good."

Lando said most cities are happy with their decision, because besides cutting costs, they're limiting headaches.

"If it's an in-house service, there's no doubt about the fact that you got union negotiations and personnel issues and potential personnel lawsuits," Lando said.

The bottom line, Lando said, is that change is scary, and the reason for such a change, comes back to one very important question.

"Is there a way we can save money and still provide the service?" said Lando.

Chico City Councilmember Randall Stone said consolidation of public safety departments is absolutely a trend, even more so in Southern California.

He said while Chico is free to and is looking at all available options for fire services, he doesn't think the city will ever get to that point of contracting out fire services.


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