Fire district public process called into question
TRUCKEE ” As the Truckee Fire Protection District seeks funding to keep up with growth, some stakeholders aren’t happy with the way district leaders are going about it.
Much of the dissatisfaction surrounded a public workshop on ways for the fire district to keep funding apace with growth held in January ” initially viewed as a positive step toward public outreach.
A list of questions created in the workshop to be answered by the district were not addressed until after the fire district board voted to adopt the financial study that lays the foundation for future financial decisions, like new fees.
“The Chief’s [Bryce Keller] and fire board’s blow-off of the well attended workshop is a blatant statement that public opinion does not matter with the fire district,” wrote Jim Porter, attorney for a number of local developments in an e-mail. “The most egregious violation of public trust I have ever seen, and I thought I’d seen it all.”
Pat Davison of the Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe was less critical, but had concerns as well.
“It’s certainly different from the way the town or other agencies do things,” Davison said.
Peter Werbel, speaking as a member of the public with experience on a board (Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District), said he is also concerned with the way the fire district is being conducted.
“We’re all in the service of the public, it’s important to listen to the community,” Werbel said. “I don’t think they really listened to the community.”
Chief Keller defended the board’s actions, saying the district has always been open and transparent.
“Based on the workshop they [the board] felt comfortable there was no substantially new information presented and adopted the fiscal impact analysis,” Keller said. “Some people just aren’t going to be happy. The board is responsible to the entire constituency base. The silent majority.”
The board voted to adopt the financial study on Jan. 20, shortly after coming out of closed session (a portion of a board meeting closed to the public) for “conference with legal counsel ” significant exposure to litigation” and for “employee performance evaluation and negotiation: fire chief,” according to the board agenda.
Here again, Porter takes issue:
“The Chief took his board into closed session for over an hour and he changed their minds and the board obediently voted to blatantly disregard their own public workshop, which smells like a Brown Act violation to me,” Porter wrote.
But Keller refuted the accusation.
“The Brown Act allegations are completely unfounded,” Keller said. “Some believe we circumvented public process but that is simply not the case.”
And Keller said that contrary to what some opponents have said, the adoption of the study isn’t the same as adopting a new fee, like the Mello-Roos district.
“The fiscal analysis isn’t binding. It’s merely a statement of position for the district,” Keller said.
The debate surrounds the Truckee Fire Protection District’s proposed Mello-Roos District, which would tax new developments on top of existing fees.
Chief Bryce Keller said this is necessary to keep the fire district’s services ” fire, ambulance, and emergency response ” up to par in spite of the increased demand growth puts on them.
Resistance from the developers initially targeted by the taxation district resulted in the fire district board tabling the idea, Keller said, but that doesn’t preclude the district from pursuing it again.
Keller said a Mello-Roos district is still the fire district’s preferred method of offsetting the negative impacts of growth in the region to fire services.
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