UNION CITY — After a yearlong study on merging the city's fire department with the Alameda County Fire Department, the City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on a five-year contract.

The city's firefighters' union endorses the merger, but some senior city staff members and all five of the city's other employee groups oppose the plan.

At heart is the question of whether a merger would negatively affect the city's bottom line, and, if so, which city employees would feel the brunt of budget cuts.

A staff report shows that contracting with the county would cost the city $263,209 more this coming fiscal year. Additionally, because it owes nearly $617,000 in accrued leave time to its firefighters, the city would have to pay that amount immediately and not have the option of carrying over the debt to the following year.

The payout would come from the general fund at a time when city officials are projecting as much as a $2.8 million deficit by June 2011 and are bracing for more cuts.

If the fire department — which makes up about 25 percent of general fund expenses — becomes part of Alameda County Fire, the city no longer would have local control and could not make substantial cuts to the department's budget. As a result, most of the reductions to the city's budget likely would come from the police department, according to the staff report.


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A joint statement signed by representatives of the city's five employee groups that represent police managers and officers, public works employees, mid-managers and other professionals, said that "this merger will result in significantly enhancing the benefits of the few (fire personnel) at the expense of remaining Union City employees. "... It is our strong belief that the community and our employees would be better served if this merger were postponed until economic conditions improve."

Fire Chief Carlos Rodriguez, who would lose his job should the merger occur, said he supports the merger in concept — but not if it would hurt other city departments.

On the other hand, John Whiting, president of the firefighters union, said he thinks the city could save about $154,000 annually — rather than spend $263,000 more per year — by merging if it removed six optional positions from the proposed contract and allowed the Alameda County Fire Department to essentially buy out a tiller engine and use the county's mechanics to work on vehicle maintenance.

"We feel that the staff report "... is not reflective of all the true cost-savings that could be there, plus it does not address the long-term savings," Whiting said. "Unfortunately, we feel the majority of the people are only looking at the first-year costs."

Whiting added that all firefighters would see a net reduction in take-home pay as a result of the merger, but that they think additional, hands-on training and other resources provided by Alameda County Fire is best for the community.

Contact Linh Tat at 510-353-7010. Follow her at Twitter.com/Linh_Tat.

IF YOU GO
WHAT: Union City City Council meeting
WHEN: 7 p.m. today
WHERE: City Hall, 34009 Alvarado-Niles Road
INFORMATION: www.unioncity.org.