Marin Independent Journal

Town backs plan for pact to share area fire services

- By Adrian Rodriguez

San Anselmo officials have endorsed the idea of a shared services agreement between the Ross Valley and Central Marin fire department­s.

The Town Council voted 4-0 last week, with Councilmem­ber Brian Colbert absent, to signal its support for the plan. The council received a presentati­on at its Feb. 28 meeting.

“I would support a joint powers agreement potentiall­y leading to a joint powers authority,” Vice Mayor Eileen Burke said at the meeting. “I think that makes the most sense.”

The Ross Valley Fire Department is a consolidat­ed department serving Ross, San Anselmo, Sleepy Hollow and Fairfax. The department serves about 24,785 people with nine firefighte­rs on duty daily working out of four fire stations.

The department entered into a memorandum of understand­ing with the Marin County Fire Department in 2018 for administra­tive and executive services. The contract ends on June 30.

Marin County fire Chief Jason Weber has been leading the Ross Valley department under the shared services contract. The agency will be without a chief when the contract expires.

The Ross Valley board hired the consulting firm Local Motion Solutions to advise on options, which included the hiring of a new chief or a shared services model with neighborin­g organizati­ons.

Local Motion Solutions was represente­d by Adam Politzer, the former city manager of Sausalito and a recent interim town manager in Fairfax, and Jim Irving, a former Southern Marin Fire Protection District chief.

Irving said they studied several options for a new governance and leadership to carry the department forward.

This was the second time the consultant­s made a presentati­on to San Anselmo. Last month, the council said it wanted more informatio­n, including comments from its colleagues in neighborin­g towns. Other Ross Valley member agencies have received similar presentati­ons, including the Fairfax and Ross town councils.

After feedback and further analysis, Irving said, they are recommendi­ng officials focus immediatel­y on the leadership change. The two models that appear to be viable are hiring a new fire chief, or a shared services agreement with the Central Marin Fire Department that could potentiall­y lead to a new joint powers governance model.

They said a pact between the Ross Valley and Central Marin agencies was the most cost-effective move in the short term.

Under the current agreement, Ross Valley pays $327,000 annually for Weber's services, operations and business support.

With a combined staff, there would be seven chief officers, including a deputy chief of operations, a fire marshal, a training battalion chief and an emergency medical services battalion chief. A standalone department would require hiring a new chief, deputy chief and fire marshal, with an estimated cost of $944,441.

Central Marin fire Chief Ruben Martin said he is interested in taking the step.

Burke asked what happens when Martin retires or leaves the department.

“I don't think you ever want to make a decision based on the personnel that are sitting in front of you today,” Weber said. “That could change for a variety of reasons.”

Instead, Weber said he recommends making the decision based on what is the most sustainabl­e option for the department. He said a short-term shared services agreement should provide officials time to continue discussion­s about that future governance.

Burke said she agreed with the suggestion, so that there is time “for us to figure out if that's the way we want to continue.”

Town officials in Ross and Fairfax also said they support moving forward with negotiatio­ns with Central Marin.

Now that the councils have weighed in, Weber said staff are asking for the final direction from the fire board at its meeting Wednesday.

Weber said that will enable staff and consultant­s to begin negotiatin­g terms for considerat­ion.

“It's clear that seems to be the desired direction, to work with Central Marin and work out the details around what this could look like,” Weber said.

An agreement with Central Marin would require approval from the Larkspur and Corte Madera councils and a unanimous vote from the fire board.

The process of consolidat­ion has been many years in the making. The Fairfax Fire Department and the San Anselmo Fire Department joined to become Ross Valley Fire Services in 1982, according to a staff report. The joint powers authority was expanded to include Sleepy Hollow in 2010.

The Ross Valley fire board meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The agenda and staff report are at rossvalley­

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