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LAFCo Study Scrutinized
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Fire officials in Escalon, Farmington and Collegeville are wary of a study conducted by LAFCo, the Local Agency Formation Commission, that may be the precursor for a recommendation of some consolidation among the county's fire services.

Public meetings on the fire study included a final session on Nov. 15 in nearby Ripon, and chiefs of the three local departments said they have lingering questions and concerns.

Escalon Fie Chief Rick Mello said his department fared pretty well in the study, with overall high marks. But Farmington Fire Chief Conni Bailey and Collegeville Fire Chief Dennis Faist both have multiple issues with the report, from response times to department ratings, that they said paint their departments in a poor light.

For Escalon, the LAFCo report indicated the 'turnout' and 'response' times for the district were below the average 90th percentile time for all rural fire districts with an average of 2:25 minutes for turnout; 2:42 at the 90th percentile and 7:25 response time, compared to the 7:38 average at the 90th percentile.

Mello said the LAFCo study took into account factors including finances, governing body, service area and more.

"They assess the feasibility of the district existing into the foreseeable future," he explained. "This is part of their municipal services review, which is required by the state every 20 years."

Mello added that, with comment taken in the series of public meetings, LAFCo officials will likely come back with some recommendations. Those could include consolidation of some departments or the establishment of JPA's, Joint Powers Authority agreements, to cooperatively manage and finance departments.

"We actually came out the best in the county in terms of per capita cost," explained Mello. "It basically costs $81 per person to operate annually."

In Farmington, Chief Bailey said her department was compiling of list of what they felt the errors were in the study and were prepared to present that to the LAFCo committee, disputing some of the facts and figures.

"We're a hundred square miles, we have a big district to cover," Bailey said, noting that she didn't feel the committee accounted for some of those hardships.

Plus, the fact that Farmington is basically a volunteer department as opposed to having a full-time staffed station with paid personnel, can add to their response time and adversely affect their rating.

"It's an unfair situation, city vs. county, paid vs. volunteer," she said.

Faist agreed that the small, volunteer rural departments didn't get a fair shake.

"We're going to meet with them (LAFCo) and correct the inaccuracies," he said. "Our response times for a volunteer fire department are okay. They want to make it look like we're a fulltime, paid fire department and we're not."

He pointed out that the department just received an improved ISO (insurance) rating for response time within five miles of the firehouse and said questions LAFCo raised about financing and the use of reserve funds can also be easily answered.

"We've built a new building, got a new fire truck, have more guys, better training, more EMTs, little steps to improvement within the constraints of our budget," he said.

LAFCo Executive Officer James Glaser said now that the series of three public meetings has concluded, the report will go back to those individual fire districts - 19 of them throughout the county - for review and comment.

"We are requesting comments from the fire districts and fire chiefs association, to be received by the end of the month," Glaser said of the Nov. 30 deadline. "We'll be spending the month of December making corrections, then get that out to the districts."

Glaser said there will likely be some recommendations for change, with LAFCo commissioners expected to get the final report in January.

"We did discuss consolidation, although we didn't find a lot of interest out there," Glaser added. "But looking five, ten years down the road, there is some merit in the idea."