Informed at the Polls: Fire Service Advisory Ballot Question

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Informed at the Polls: Fire Service Advisory Ballot Question



As Election Day approaches, Reno Public Radio explains the handful of ballot issues voters will decide this year. KUNR%u2019s Michael Hagerty begins with the only ballot question that voters all across the state will be asked.

To put it simply, the question asks "Should local governments be required to provide automatic aid to nearby local governments in fire and medical emergencies?"

Automatic Aid is when the closest fire station responds, regardless of jurisdiction.

If you vote 'yes,' you agree the closest unit--Reno or Washoe County--should respond to an emergency.

If you vote 'no,' you say, the closest unit should not be required to provide emergency response. Therefore, Reno responds to emergencies in Reno and Washoe County responds to emergencies in Washoe County, regardless of whether or not another fire station is closer.

The question stems from a year-long debate between the city and county over fire service-- after the interlocal unit split into two separate departments in July. The local governments can't decide how the departments should provide service, if it should be paid for, and if so, how much should that aid cost?

Reno City councilmembers say the question is misleading; it doesn't take finances into account.

"Even if you look at agruments for and agains tballot question, what it doesn't say on ballot is how much it's going to cost the taxpayers of the city of Reno. How much the financial implication is," said Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza.

It's an advisory ballot question, so it's purely designed to help officials gauge what voters want going forward--nothing legally would change regardless of the outcome.

Commissioner John Breternitz says it's important to know how voters feel, as the city council and county commission prepare for a major turnover in lawmakers.

"If we can't get it done before the council and commission changes, then at least the new commission and council will have a mandate that citizens will want to be protected to the maximum ability once they take office," he said.

But the city contends since the ballot question doesn't discuss financial implications, the results won't be an accurate assessment of what voters want.

The county approved the ballot question in mid-July, in the midst of discussions over automatic or mutual aid. The approval of the ballot question caused further tension between the two local governments.

"I just think it was disappointing to move forward to try and make sure we're doing everything we can sure we're covering the areas that need to be covered, and then they go ahead and put this question on the ballot. It makes no sense to me," said Councilman Dwight Dortch at a July meeting.

Commissioners Bob Larkin and Kitty Jung voted against the ballot question in July, and Commissioner David Humke actually tried to change his vote against it.

However, since the meeting had already been adjourned, the question remains on the ballot for residents in Reno and the unincorporated county areas.

Voters in Sparks won't see the question when they head to the ballot box because Sparks Mayor Geno Martini asked the commission to keep the city out of the situation.