S. Yuba districts near deal
Wheatland and the Plumas-Brophy Fire Protection District are near an agreement to jointly operate fire and rescue services in new city developments, officials said Thursday.
The joint powers agreement, which city officials said could be completed within weeks, will help Wheatland serve two large subdivisions and will ensure fire protection for thousands of new residents .
"It's going to get done," said Mayor Enita Elphick. "The JPA is a top priority right now."
Officials could not discuss specifics because details are still being ironed out, they said.
Generally, the agreement will keep the two fire departments independent, but their services will be run by a joint Board of Directors, which will oversee one fund for both.
"Neither district is being dissolved," said Bob Bradshaw, Plumas-Brophy's fire chief. "I think it's going to work well. We've been fighting (fires) like it's one department anyway. There will be no real changes."
Wheatland city planners are still reviewing the agreement. After the two parties sign a draft, the City Council must approve it.
At issue not only was who would provide fire protection to the new subdivisions but who would pay for it.
For years, Plumas-Brophy's volunteer crews have responded to fires within the Wheatland city limits in addition to the district's other designated county areas. No funds are exchanged for the service, Bradshaw said, but the two departments share expenses for operation and supplies.
The "automatic aid agreement" was in place largely for insurance purposes, he said.
The stakes have changed, however, with the city's approval of annexation requests for Heritage Oaks and Jones Ranch. Combined, they will comprise more than 1,000 new homes.
Annexation for both developments would include portions of the Plumas-Brophy district.
Wheatland's small, all-volunteer Fire Department cannot keep pace with such massive growth without help from Plumas-Brophy, said Dan Bradshaw, chairman of Plumas-Brophy's Board of Directors.
A joint agreement ensures Wheatland will contribute its share of new tax revenues for expanding firefighting services.
"There's only a certain amount of good Samaritan work you can do," Bradshaw said.
It's unclear whether a joint powers agreement will have any effect on a pending lawsuit against the city filed by Plumas-Brophy more than a year ago.
In January 2004, the fire district sued in Yuba County Superior Court challenging the Jones Ranch subdivision, alleging in part that the city approved the project without sufficiently analyzing its impact on firefighting services.
A month earlier, the fire district filed similar litigation regarding the Heritage Oaks project, but a judge recently dismissed that lawsuit.
While it's uncertain how or if the agreement will influence the Jones Ranch lawsuit, Stephen Wright, interim city manager, said Wheatland officials hope it will resolve the issues in the litigation.
"We're certainly hopeful that it accomplishes that," he said. "That's one of the goals of making this agreement happen."
An attorney for the fire district could not be reached for comment.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Daniel Thigpen can be reached at 749-4713. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.