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Fresno sued by Kerman-based district for ending firefighting contract

This 2007 photo shows North Central Fire Protection District captain Matt Sullivan in a Fresno City Fire Department shirt beside a North Central Fire Protection District truck.
This 2007 photo shows North Central Fire Protection District captain Matt Sullivan in a Fresno City Fire Department shirt beside a North Central Fire Protection District truck. Fresno Bee file

The North Central Fire Protection District has sued the city of Fresno after the City Council last month decided to no longer provide firefighting services to 250 square miles west of town.

The lawsuit, filed on April 28, said North Central will be forced to spend substantial amounts to revive its fire department. The district’s lawyer, Kenneth Price, said the city had no legal basis to end the contract.

Fresno gave the district nine months notice, which means it will have to rebuild the department by Dec. 15, when the contract ends.

The council voted in closed session to terminate the contract in March because the district pays $5.1 million for the city to provide coverage in its fire stations in Biola, Kerman and Kearney Park. The cost to the city to provide the service is $7 million.

Price said termination could only occur if there was a sudden unforeseen loss of revenues, but the “city has never explained what the unforeseen loss of revenue is.”

Under their contract, the city and North Central factored in adjustments during the term of the 30-year contract, which was signed through 2037.

The only basis to terminate, is if both parties agree to terminate.

Kenneth Price, lawyer for North Central Fire Protection District

Price said the district asked the city to rescind its termination notice, but city officials refused. He also said both agencies had a mediation session scheduled, but the city canceled it.

“The only basis to terminate,” Price said, “Is if both parties agree to terminate.”

The city will not discuss legal action, said spokesman Mark Standriff.

At a meeting in March, Fresno City Council members voted 6-1 to terminate the contract with nine months notice.

Prior to the meeting, City Manager Bruce Rudd said the city was interested in breaking even on the contract, not making money. The city, he said, cannot subsidize fire protection for county residents.

In a 2006 staff report to the City Council prior to the city's approval of the agreement, then-Fresno Fire Department Chief Randy Bruegman wrote that the fee structure in the contract "was designed to provide for full cost recovery" for the city. The agreement was unanimously approved by the City Council on Aug. 29, 2006, and approved by then-Mayor Alan Autry about a week later. The contract fee for the city's services to the district was set at almost $4.4 million per year, subject to the formula for annual adjustments.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

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