Jim Clark: Adding fuel to the fire in the Truckee Meadows
May 21, 2014
Can a house fire in East Reno ultimately result in the dismantling of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District? The answer requires analysis of convoluted facts but read on and see if you don't agree that the danger exists.
First, the city of Reno has, over the last decade or so, found itself in ever deepening financial problems. The creative financing used to fund the lowering of the railroad tracks, down town redevelopment and to woo the owners of the Aces baseball team have combined with loss in property and sales tax revenue during the great recession to cause serious financial concerns.
This has arguably resulted in Reno attempting to gain jurisdiction over more of Washoe County's tax base. Earlier the city proposed to "disincorporate" and place its 7 council persons on the Washoe County commission. Didn't happen.
Next, the city proposed amending Nevada law to allow them to annex non-contiguous communities. Didn't happen.
In 201,0 they persuaded Washoe County to place a vaguely worded "Reno-Washoe County consolidation" advisory question on the ballot; although it failed in Sparks and the unincorporated county, Reno voters widely supported it and it passed 54 percent to 46 percent.
Reno again proposed to add their 7 council persons to the County Commission. Didn't happen.
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The second seemingly unrelated fact is the history of strife between the Reno Fire Department and Washoe County's Truckee Meadows Fire Department. For 10 years Reno managed both but the county became concerned about Reno's fire budget and terminated the contract 2 years ago.
Reno's strident firefighter union insists on having 4-person crews on fire engines whereas Sparks, the county and North Tahoe all have 3-person "flex" crews. According to the Reno Gazette Journal's "fact checker," the additional fireman costs taxpayers $122,000 per year per fire engine.
Reno is now laying off firefighters and closing down fire stations to get within budget. Unresolved squabbles remain between Reno and Washoe County as to who responds where to fires and medical emergencies.
Then last year the East Reno home of Richard West caught fire. A county fire engine responded while a Reno City fire station nearby ignored the blaze. County engines from north valleys responded as soon as they could but by then the house was a wreck. Publicity was wide spread; criticism of the stubborn Reno Fire Department was rife.
Where is all this leading? As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said: "Never waste a good crisis." Since local elected officials and firefighter union leaders cannot do anything but squabble and point fingers Reno is now toying with the idea of a city & county fire consolidation decree to be imposed by the Nevada Legislature whereby the squabbling fire departments would be force-merged by state law thereby overruling local officials who do not play well together.
Adding fuel to this fire (no pun intended) the burned out house belongs to a prominent Reno automobile dealer who is the father-in-law of Incline's Senator Ben Kieckhefer.
Ben is in talks with Incline's County Commissioner, Marsha Berkbigler and both have given assurances in writing that Incline's fire district is not in play. I personally believe that is correct.
The question is what might occur if and when this hits the legislature. Will firefighter union interests in Clark County persuade their overwhelming legislative delegation to support a bill that is advantageous to their City of Reno brethren?
Will a majority vote to mandate one single fire district for the whole county (to be managed by Reno) giving that district access to Incline/Crystal Bay's assessed value to pay for of it? Is NLTFPD, one of the best fire districts in the US, in jeopardy of being swallowed up?
Watch this one closely folks.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.