RC Council supports fire station transfer

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With a 3-2 vote, the Rio Communities City Council passed a resolution supporting the transfer of the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department from the county to the city.

Last month, county commissioners also approved a similar measure that would transfer the land, equipment and apparatus to the newly formed municipality.

The city council voted on the resolution after hearing from State Fire Marshal John Standefer last week, who said if a contract was in place between the city and county within a timely matter, the fire department would still receive its annual state fire fund appropriations.

"Our hope, what exists now and for the foreseeable future, that it continues to operate as one fire department," Standefer said. "Only one fire department can legally receive those funds."

Standefer explained that if the city did acquire the fire department, it would have to keep the district intact in order to receive the state fire funds. He also said while it would be acceptable to his office if the city of Rio Communities took over the department, he suggested that the county continue to operate it until the city is more "financially sound."

"The most important thing is not for either entity to make a legal mistake that would stop the fire funds," the state fire marshal said. "We will help all the way with that and react quickly."

Standefer also said it was appropriate and important that the county put a reversion clause in it's agreement, meaning that if the city of Rio Communities either can't run the fire department or disincorporates, all of the department's assets would revert back to the county.

"It protects the county," he said. "We think it's an excellent clause to put in there."

The fire marshal said because the current boundaries of the fire district does not include all of the city, that can easily be changed before the county and city sign a contract. He also explained that once the fire department is transferred to the city, the county's career firefighters who are stationed at RGEFD would be relocated to another county station.

Currently, the fire district has an ISO rating of 5, Standefer said. The ISO rating, which determines homeowner's insurance rates, is in line to be re-evaluated soon.

Former fire chief LE Rubin said that the department achieved the ISO rating before paid crews were implemented in the county and that with it's professionalism, training record and the amount of volunteers the department has, he believes they can maintain the rating or even improve it.

Standefer said if the city does ultimately attain the department, it would not be placed on a probationary period because it's already an established fire station with equipment, apparatus and volunteers.

When it came time to vote on the resolution, Councilor Mary Lee Serna voiced concerns that the city's attorney has not yet advised the council on the legalities of the issue.

"In order for us to go forward on this, we need to look at all the legal aspects before we make a commitment," she said. "We need to have a thorough understanding and explanation by the city attorney."

Mayor Mark Gwinn said the city will be forming a committee, who will work on the information and that the city attorney will be involved.

"I think that it's at a point that we need to have this," Gwinn said. "We'll have (our attorney) talk to the county's attorney and make sure legal is covered."

Councilors Serna and Kaylon Northcutt voted against the resolution, while Councilors Cyndi Sluder and Frank Stasi vote for it. Gwinn broke the tie, approving the measure.

In other business, the council:

• Approved a resolution designating the retention and disposition of records of one year;

• Voted to allow Rio Communities resident G.E. Nordell to develop a website for the city. With a $300 donation from residents, Nordell said he could have the website running within a couple of weeks;

• Tabled considering whether or not to allow Councilor Frank Stasi to travel to Las Vegas, Nev., to attend the Economic Retail Convention;

• Approved the donation of three properties to the city of Rio Communities;

• Heard from Councilor Cyndi Sluder about the request for capital outlay funding from the state legislature;

• Heard from Northcutt on the progress of the city logo contest. The councilor informed the governing body that about 40 students from La Merced Elementary participated in the contest and the entries will be posted at city hall.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.