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Some Kern County cities struggling to afford contract price increases for fire services

Kern County Fire Department (FILE)
Posted at 1:16 PM, Jun 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-11 20:29:02-04

(KERO) — Many smaller Kern County cities do not have their own fire departments, which means cities like Arvin and Taft contract services from the Kern County Fire Department. But officials are now saying that the cost of those services is increasing, leading to a financial strain and possible further problems down the road.

A union representing Kern County firefighters tells us that the department may need to increase the cost of those services quite a bit. He says the department is losing a lot of money from servicing those contracted cities.

“In reality, we have a revenue issue and the contract cities are a big contributor to that, almost 10 million dollars in loss each year," said Dave Nelson, the president of the Kern County Firefighters Association, a union representing Kern County firefighters.

KCFD provides contracted services to nine kern county cities, and Nelson says those contracts have been given at a discounted rate.

“We were working with a flawed formulary, and not capturing those true costs," Nelson said.

Nelson says the current contracts were not adjusted for things like inflation, fuel costs, and increases in labor costs, among other things. As a result, he says the price of a fire department contract is going up.

“They're talking about an increase for like $700,000 to $1.5 million," said Jeff Jones, acting city manager of Arvin.

Arvin is one of several cities saying that KCFD is aiming to increase its contract rates in the future by as much as double.

“Really the only way we’re going to be able to afford this is bringing in additional revenue or cutting expenses in the next five years," Jones said.

In a report by the city of Taft's financial director, Taft also estimates their contract with KCFD is expected to double over the next 5 years. The report in the June 15th Taft city council agenda says “unless we address this challenge, the city may have no choice but to reduce fire protection and paramedic services, increasing 911 response times and jeopardizing the lives of Taft residents needing life-saving emergency medical assistance.”

“I know certainly our goal is not to bankrupt any city," Nelson said.

The firefighter’s association believes it’s unlikely that staff or resources could be reduced at county fire facilities because staff and resources are already pretty thin. Looking forward, it will be up to KCFD and its contracted cities to negotiate the best way to move forward.

“This is a harsh reality of where we’re at, and we have to work together cohesively to find a reasonable solution," Nelson said.