Bill Would Create Regional Fire Dept. in Washoe Co.
Tensions stemming from the deconsolidation of the Reno and Truckee Meadows fire departments have sparked one Nevada assemblyman to introduce a Bill Draft Request for the next legislative session that would create a regional fire department in Washoe County. KUNR's Kate McGee has more on the preliminary bill draft request.Republican Nevada Assemblyman Randy Kirner introduced the bill draft request. "The county and the city don't seem to be able to come to an agreement around the issue, and there's been a lot of conversations back and forth that haven't been particularly constructive," Kirner said, referring to the so-called Fire Divorce back in July when Reno and Truckee Meadows ended the Inter-local fire agreement in the area and split into two departments. The situation caused a standstill for more than a year between city and county officials over the future of fire service in the region.As it stands right now, the bill draft would create a separate fire agency called the Washoe County Fire Protection District. It would be controlled by a five person fire board of private citizens and paid for by ad valorem taxes.Other fire departments wouldn't be forced to join the district, but if they wanted to they'll have to play by the new fire district's rules. For example, if the new district has established an automatic aid agreement with another department, an agency joining the new district would have to honor it too. Another example is that firefighters joining the new agency would have to accept the employment benefits the new district has already negotiated. Firefighters wouldn't be able to transfer parts of their old labor contracts into the new agreement. Assemblyman Kirner says he wants to simplify the process so the new fire agency will only have to negotiate with one union."We want to say 'Look, here is the deal. Here is the contract that has been negotiated with the fire district management. If you wish to join the new first district, you may do so. But you need to do it under this contract,'" Kirner said. The new first district would negotiated with one union, Truckee Meadows' current union: Local 3895.That union must follow state collective bargaining laws, officially known as Nevada Revised Statute 288. But there would be some modifications. Unions wouldn't be able to collect dues and pay would be compared to military rates or the private sector, instead of the public sector.Some question whether that would contradict existing state law, such as Washoe County Commissioner-Elect Marsha Berkbigler. "Do I think there needs to be some changes to NRS 288, which is basically the public employee union chapter? The answer is yes I do," she said. "But I don't know that that language that is in Mr. Kirner's bill is language that can stand up to a court challenge." Meanwhile, Local Fire Union 731 President Dennis Jacobsen expressed other concerns, as the union that represents Reno firefighters. He says this new proposal is problematic because it would reduce the power of fire department unions. "It takes quite a bit of liberties with a number of employment rights, employee management rights that are long established state law and it kind of white washes over them," Jacobsen said. "That's very much a concern of ours, absolutely." Under the current proposal, for example, if the Reno City Council decides the Reno Fire Department will join the new district, Reno firefighters would have to accept the contract negotiated by another union -- one they're not a part of.Reno Fire Chief Mike Hernandez was hesitant to comment on the Bill Draft Request since the legislative session has yet to start. But he says he's unsure the state's involvement in regionalizaion is best. "Anytime you have an outside entitiy, for example, the state that mandates specific requirements and mandates the process, the locals lose a bit of control," Hernandez said. "And I think that's where the concern is." However, Hernandez notes a lot can change between now and the end of the legislative session next year. "How a BDR is specifically written and ultimately how it comes out of the legislative session can be significantly different," he said. "So we'll have to wait to see how the legislative process impacts this specific BDR."