Election 2014: Truckee Fire board candidates sound off | SierraSun.com

Election 2014: Truckee Fire board candidates sound off

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Consolidation and tax revenue were among topics discussed by the four candidates running for Truckee Fire Protection District board at Wednesday's political forum.

Paul D. Wilford (incumbent), Gerald W. Herrick (incumbent), Victor R. Hernandez (incumbent) and Gary Botto are vying for three, four-year seats in the Nov. 4 election.

Below is a sampling of some of their comments to larger issues, presented in random order:

On potential of consolidation of fire districts…

Hernandez: When I was a firefighter, I lived through a consolidation and it took a long time for the growing pains to go away. What I see now is we basically have a functional consolidation. We have agreements for responses, we have agreements and exchanges in training and equipment. We have everything in place. The only thing is the doors on the engines and the ambulances say other districts. We need additional people, they come without hesitation. This way we can focus on the needs of our community, and we can stay focused well within where we are. If we were to consolidate … (it would be) a bit difficult to handle, as well as do all the personnel changes and those sorts of things.

Wilford: I've worked in a department near the Reno city limits that went through three consolidations. I worked in the same station, drove the same fire truck, wore three different T-shirts and got paychecks from three different organizations, and it's the wave of the future. The economics of scale do work out in favor and it will happen here eventually. We will have a regionalized fire service to the benefit of all involved, and it's just a matter of time. The time right now is not right. Functional consolidation is working very well, and it will evolve hopefully within our lifetime. It will happen here, and it will work very well when it does.

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Herrick: Two or three of us up here, the current board members actually attended meetings with our chief and the staff from North Tahoe to discuss this matter. Two, three years ago those occurred. Mike Schwartz is the new chief at North Tahoe (Fire Protection District) and it's probably time for us to initiate those discussions again. We have to involve Northstar and we have to involve Squaw Valley … It's an issue I'm open to discussing. The time will probably come to take action.

Botto: They used to call me Mr. Territorial when I was on the fire district because I believed in just protecting Truckee. I don't mean it like we wouldn't go other places; I just meant that I didn't favor the thought of consolidation at the time … I'm just saying you've got to be careful. If I was on the board, I would agree, if it's brought to you, you have to look at it, but be careful to think that it's the answer. It's not always the answer. I believe in small government.

On solution to the district not getting tax income from parts of Placer County…

Wilford: The board had been looking at this for several years. We've had board members meet with Placer County supervisors, and we have hired some of the best legal help on tax issues from the state, and we have in the course of this spent over $30,000 in taxpayer revenue to the fire district to research the legal on this. We have chosen to follow the legal recommendations that we paid for through those attorneys, and right now there is potential for change in the future, and again the Prop 13 issue is kind of a brick wall we're up against. We're choosing to go with our best legal advice.

Herrick: When I leave Truckee Fire as a board member in four years, I hope this matter will be solved. As far as I'm concerned it's my legacy issue, and the only part of the discussion about this matter that is confidential is the legal advice our attorneys have given us in closed session. The rest is in minutes of the fire board meeting. … When the three of us were elected four years ago, we set up a committee … to look into some issues relating to what fees were being charged for new construction. I recommend we reactivate that committee. I recommend we reach out to the citizens. I recommend we be more open about what's going on with this matter and get the citizens to be supportive of helping us in trying to resolve this problem because we realize a significant amount of money.

Botto: I know a little bit about this from my years when I was still employed with the fire district, this was becoming an issue at the time. Honestly, I think that you have to follow whatever legal means there (are) involved in this. (The fire district) should be realizing some of the money from those tax dollars, however Prop 13 and the way it was written, I think that was beyond what we could do, beyond their scope at the time, and they didn't see it … Now I think Gerald is right, people have to be involved. Communities have to be involved … I don't know the answers, but I do think it's more than just the board. It goes beyond that.

Hernandez: Yes, we've talked about this issue since we came into office. It was presented pretty early in our tenure, and I tell you it's something that we spent a lot of money on. We've listened and sought counsel — and top counsel, people who their only business is interpreting Proposition 13 and trying to solve those problems ­— as well as other people who look at the historical aspects … of tax collection. This is going to be an interesting problem because if there is a solution, we haven't heard it yet, and also, some of the solutions that were offered means that the department is going to have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars. I would much rather spend that on people in the fire trucks and in the ambulances.