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KCFD rate increases spur city to examine new options

Tehachapi City Council Update

In the absence of Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Davies, the Tehachapi City Council voted unanimously but reluctantly to approve a new six-year agreement between the city of Tehachapi and Kern County Fire Department. The new agreement included an increase in the annual fee paid to the county for fire services. This agreement would increase the total charged for fire service from $749,846 in 2022 to $2,249,866 by 2028. This amount would include an increased amount from the City’s General Fund from $18,669 to $1,270,019 in 2028.

In 2020, the Kern County Board of Supervisors conducted a study of fire rates for contract cities, including Tehachapi. This study was completed without the knowledge or input of the contract cities and was based on call volume only. The City of Tehachapi hired fire consultant City Gate to study the cost of Kern County Fire and investigate other options for reducing contract cost.

Station 12, which is located in the city, does occasionally respond to calls outside the City. The City Gate study showed just a 5% increase in calls for service outside the city limits. It also showed that 49.6% of calls for service from Station 12 were EMS related. With two Hall Ambulance stations operating within city limits, there was a concern that they were paying for a duplication of services. Requests for discounts from Kern County Fire for these items were refused in both cases. According to Corey Costelloe, assistant to the City Manager, “The city was informed on multiple occasions that the county is holding firm on the proposed costs and, if we disagree, the City of Tehachapi should start their own fire department.”

As a result of this response the City has begun to explore other options for service including starting its own fire department. However, the timeline necessary to execute any of these options could not possibly be achieved by the end of the current contract in 2022. The current agreement does include a provision for termination of the agreement by either party with twelve months notice.

City Attorney Thomas Schroeter cautioned that mutual aid was understood between communities and if Tehachapi forms its own fire department, other departments won’t offer help. At this time only California City and Bakersfield have their own fire department. A committee was formed including Mayor Phil Smith and Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Davies to assist city staff in exploring options.

Costelloe said that while the proposed increases were not in the spirit of the original agreement made in 2006 as being part of a “regional fire department,” the benefits outweigh many other options so the city was recommending approval at this time.

The Tehachapi City Council meets on the first and third Monday of the month at 6 p.m. They are currently meeting at the Police Department Community Room, 220 W. C Street.