By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – The Davis City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve the purchase of the ladder truck and the staffing Option 3, but many council members did so reluctantly—not because they opposed the ladder truck and new staffing, but because they would have preferred the greater staffing option of Option 2.
Option 2 would have added six new firefighters, two per shift, whereas Option 3 ads three new firefighters, one per shift for an estimated cost of nearly $700,000 per year in staffing in addition to the $2 million or so purchase of the apparatus itself from safety impact funds.
The first three years would be presumably paid for out of the ARP (American Rescue Plan) funding but then, after year three, the city would need to use General Funds unless they find an alternative source.
Staff recommended Option 3 even though it thought Option 2 “strikes the best balance between staffing levels and budget considerations.”
Staff argued for “pursuing Option 3 with the knowledge that Option 2 could be added at a later date after the economic recovery from COVID is clearer, and after the revenue alternatives analysis noted above is complete.”
“I’m really concerned about going with this Option 3,” said Councilmember Will Arnold. “I think it sort of on paper looks like it’s saving money, but it has a lot of these potential negative effects.”
Councilmember Dan Carson noted that we need to be prudent about making a new fiscal commitment at this time.
“We have this COVID infection exploding,” he said. “Again, we have the campus having delayed its return to town, and we don’t know for sure there won’t be further delays that could have a very significant impact fiscally on our city and on our downtown.”
City Manager Mike Webb responded, “What we’ve done in the staff report is say basically that by starting at the three staff person option, or Option 3, there’s always the ability to ramp up.”
He added, “it’s awfully difficult to go the other way, which is to start on the higher end of the staffing spectrum and work down if we needed to be responsive via budgetary reductions or cuts in some way.”
Mayor Gloria Partida said, “I do also think that we need to be a little cautious as far as the amount that we are putting out right now. So I’m okay with the Option 3.”
“I’m really supportive of us proceeding with the aerial ladder truck,” Vice Mayor Frerichs said. “I see it as an insurance policy. I think we increasingly have seen development of certainly three-but (also) five-, six-seven-story buildings in the past couple of years.”
He added, “We’ve seen need for the UC Davis ladder truck to assist structure fires, in this case at the University Retirement Community and the four-story buildings there.”
Frerichs noted, “I think that seems to be a likely scenario that’s increasing in the future.”
Of the options, he was supportive of Option 3.
“I think it’s prudent for us to address this issue sort of one bite of the apple at a time,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind that the current personnel at Davis fire department has been working a lot, especially a huge amount of overtime. This has been an extremely difficult time for everybody throughout the pandemic and I do think that there’s a need for us to look at the issues around staffing.”
Dan Carson said he was in agreement with Councilmember Frerichs.
“I think that the three-part motion here is fiscally responsible and it strikes a balance,” he said. “Part of the reason we are out to rezone downtown is so that it becomes the economic powerhouse for this community that we want as well as a place for infill housing that will be environmentally sustainable.”
He said, “If we’re going to go up to seven stories as it’s quite possible with this plan, we do have an obligation to make sure that we have the equipment to do so safely.”
He reiterated it was his preference to collaborate with UC Davis on this, “but they have not to this point been willing to join hands with us in this effort.”
Will Arnold added, “I’ve made my opinions on the staffing pretty clear, I’m not comfortable with Option 3. I think it only sort of entrenches our issues that we’ve having with overtaxing our firefighters and incurring more overtime than I think its sustainable.”
Will Arnold put a separate motion that separated the Option 3 from the rest of the motion, that motion carried unanimously and then the motion for Option 3 passed 4-1 with Arnold opposing it.