The San Jacinto City Council approved the draft Joint Powers Agreement with the Idyllwild Fire Protection District at its June 7 meeting.

The council also directed its staff to continue to negotiate an extension of its contract with the Riverside County Fire Department. The council wants to see if the county will lower its cost of operations and possibly agree to an extension beyond June 30, but one of less than 112 months. The current contract between the city and the county expires on June 30 and the proposed new contract is for one year with a one-year extension.

The council voted unanimously 4-0, with council member Crystal Ruiz absent, to adopt the agreement and authorize establishing the JPA. The council’s attitude was clearly disappointment over its relation with county fire. Its failure to staff the city’s Station 78, in the west side of San Jacinto, has been an issue.

Deputy Chief Glenn Patterson presented to the council the county’s proposal with an option to employ a pilot project, called “Quick Response,” to provide service to the city’s Station 78 area.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Miller asked the first question, “Why now? Why make a proposal now? Why not two years ago? Why wasn’t Cal Fire at the table then?”

“People on the west side are suffering,” he added.

Continuing with the Council’s lament over the closure of Station 78 and reduced service to this area, Councilman Alonso Ledezma also directed his questions to Patterson. “The pressure of competition was needed to get this type of presentation … it’s not fair. We really needed you and you can’t imagine the heat we get.”

After Patterson’s presentation, which addressed some of the costs included or missing from the Idyllwild Fire Protection District proposal, IFPD Battalion Chief Mark LaMont described how IFPD would implement the JPA for San Jacinto’s benefit.

He stressed that he and IFPD Fire Chief Patrick Reitz could staff a city fire department for less than the cost of a contract with Riverside County Fire and still maintain a squad and staff at Station 78. His projected savings for the city was about $675,000 annually.

After pubic comment, including two union representatives from local 2881 and former IFPD Chief Steve Kunkle, the council began to discuss the issue.

Miller seemed to sum up the council’s opinion when he said, “We seek a high level of service at reduced costs. Today we’re discussing a business model. And the clear message is that San Jacinto must do more with less.”

Mayor Andrew Kotyuk also stressed that more than 80 percent of the city’s emergency calls are for medical needs. Based on these conditions, he felt that a flexible staffing model would serve fire and medical requirements. Again, he also stressed the need for two stations — downtown and on the city’s west side.

“We had no control over when the station [78] was closed; there was a complete lack of local control,” he lamented. “We need an efficient and flexible model for fire and hazardous materials incidents. But also for medical emergencies, which happen all the time.”

In concluding, the council adopted a resolution to approve the JPA with IFPD. The decisions about how many staff and where to deploy them will be made later. The JPA cannot implement service to the city until a budget is approved and the city orders it. Meanwhile, negotiations with the county will continue.