Rincon Valley firefighters want Santa Rosa to take over firefighting in their sprawling district, a move they said would best maintain future firefighting services and could be largely supported by the district's current fire fees.
But the proposed shift threatens to derail a plan by Windsor and Rincon Valley fire boards to consolidate their agencies, a move they have been working on for more than two years to reduce expenses and gain efficiencies.
The dueling ideas reflect the shifting landscape of fire services in Sonoma County, with conversations underway at many of the 40-plus agencies on how to maintain solid fire protection amid increasing costs.
Most of those discussions are in more rural areas, where largely volunteer and district departments are studying consolidation as a way to sustain coverage under tight budgets.
In contrast, the crossroads now faced by Rincon Valley and its two potential partners, Windsor and Santa Rosa, take in a much more populated swath of central Sonoma County, home to more than 220,000 people. Any decision could have wide repercussions on both the long-term cost and look of fire services in the area.
"It's a pretty large, all-encompassing policy question which has issues for service levels and funding for sure throughout the city," said Santa Rosa City Manager Kathy Millison.
The contracting request from Rincon Valley to Santa Rosa is up for a vote Tuesday night at the Rincon Valley Fire Protection District's board meeting. If approved, it could go to the Santa Rosa City Council.
Any contract would be paid for primarily with a negotiated amount of Rincon's $4.6 million in district revenues, including annual residential fire protection fees and property taxes.
Under a contract, Rincon Valley firefighters would become Santa Rosa firefighters — giving them a slight boost in pay and benefits, said union leaders.
The Rincon Valley fire district would remain an entity, with limited oversight.
The potential move comes as Rincon Valley and Windsor had been closing in on a decision over whether to move forward as a unified fire department called Central Fire Authority.
Board presidents overseeing each of the entities and their shared chief favor that direction.
But Rincon Valley firefighters say they prefer a partnership with Santa Rosa, as the two agencies have been closely aligned in operations and jurisdiction for many years.
Many of the 30,000 residents within Rincon Valley's fire district receive primary response from Santa Rosa firefighters, noted Rincon Valley fire Capt. Andrew Maclean.
"We're dependent upon Santa Rosa to protect so much of our district," said Maclean, a union leader for Rincon's firefighters. "We need to figure out what the long-term relationship with Santa Rosa is going to be."
Union leaders for Santa Rosa firefighters also support the idea.
"If there ever was a time to ask this question, it's now," said Santa Rosa firefighter Tim Aboudara, president of Santa Rosa Firefighters Local 1401.
Millison, the Santa Rosa city manager, said the City Council would discuss a contract request if it is made by Rincon Valley. But she said it would be a complicated issue for the council to take up.
The city is already considering a potentially costly annexation of Roseland and searching for both a new fire chief and a new city manager to replace Millison, who is retiring in September.
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