On April 9, the Mountain House Community Services District Board of Directors voted unanimously to seek requests for proposals from fire service providers. The decision comes in the wake of the board voting Sept. 11 to discontinue its contract with South County as of September 2015.
Tracy fire Chief Al Nero, who oversees the South County Fire Authority, said he understands trying to find an economical way to provide fire services to the community of Mountain House. But he said the town is not overpaying, as some officials have claimed.
“There’s no price gouging going on here,” he said Monday, sitting in his Tracy fire department office. “I think they are getting excellent services from us at a fair price, and I think at the end of the day they will realize that.”
Mountain House pays $2.3 million a year for fire service.
Mountain House General Manager Janice McClintock told the governing board in September that the community was paying too much. She urged the directors to update the fire contract, which she said hadn’t been evaluated since 2002.
Nero said there is a misperception
that Mountain House overpays because its payment is 15 percent of the cost of running the Tracy fire department, yet the town averages 6 percent of the calls for service. He said the comparison isn’t relevant.
“Their pay is not based on how many calls there are,” he said. “They’re paying based on the number of personnel that they have located within their jurisdiction. There’s a cost whether those folks go out on 1,000 calls or go out on 10 calls.”
Nero said the Tracy fire department has an in-house hazardous materials team and provides advanced life support and a full response to structure fires, rescues and traffic accidents. The department also provides hydrant inspections and maintenance, public information and educational programs, fire prevention and weed abatement.
He said it’s unknown what residents would get from another agency or a private company.
If the directors choose a provider other than the Tracy fire department, officials would have to pay South County Fire Authority the fair market value for the Mountain House fire station and its apparatus and equipment, the chief said. There is also a question of whether Tracy would respond to mutual aid calls within the community, he said.
“There seems to be a belief that a mutual aid agreement in general makes it illegal for a fire department to choose not to respond into another jurisdiction,” Nero said. “That is not an accurate account of what the mutual aid system is. The mutual aid system is voluntary, not a requirement to respond.”
He said Tracy fire department does have mutual aid agreements with all its bordering jurisdictions, as well as the counties of Alameda and Contra Costa. He said, however, that a new Mountain House fire agency would have to negotiate with South County Fire for that service and that nothing was guaranteed.
“If it got to that, we would look at it at that time,” he said. “The point is it’s not mandatory.”
Now that the board has approved the RFP process, Nero said his agency will participate and submit a proposal.
“We’re preparing our proposal of what we can provide for them and at what price we can do it,” he said. “They do get excellent services from the South County Fire Authority, and that would continue to happen. We’d like to continue to do that, but we can’t do it for free.”
The deadline for proposal submissions is Aug. 11, and Mountain House officials hope to be in contract negotiations with a fire service provider by March 2.
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at email@example.com or 830-4225.