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San Bernardino won't seek to outsource firefighting services

City Councilman Robert Jenkins, left, listens as Mayor Pat Morris, right, discusses a proposal to explore outsourcing the City of San Bernardino's firefighting services.
City Councilman Robert Jenkins, left, listens as Mayor Pat Morris, right, discusses a proposal to explore outsourcing the City of San Bernardino's firefighting services.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

A proposal for the bankrupt City of San Bernardino to ask county or state agencies to consider taking over city firefighting duties failed to get enough votes Monday.

Most of the residents who spoke at the council meeting opposed Councilman Fred Shorett's proposal to study the cost of outsourcing fire services. Some accused him of trying to sell out the century-old city fire department to outside agencies that would not provide the same quality of service.

Lilias Andreasen told the council: "I do not believe we should be farming out our fire department to a mercenery fire department."
Shorett responded that he would respect equally any firefighting agency serving San Bernardino — whether it is part of city, county or state government — but he had to find a way to get the city on solid footing.
"It's my responsibility to the taxpayers of San Bernardino to deliver services in a most cost-effective way, and that's all I'm suggesting that I try to do," Shorett said.

Resident Richard Castro said it was a smart move for the city to measure the cost of its fire services in the marketplace.

"If we go out and get an estimate, do we need to buy it? No. We are bankrupt, we need solutions," Castro said.
Councilman Robert Jenkins argued against outsourcing fire services for the city of about 209,000, instead proposing a plan to let the city Fire Department earn money by providing services to other jurisdictions.

"We may actually bring revenue into the city, and that way the taxpayers could still keep the infrastructure in place if there were another Panorama or Old Fire," Jenkins said.

The Old Fire, which broke out in October 2003, and the much earlier Panorama Fire, burned hundreds of homes in the northern part of San Bernardino.

Shorett's proposal to study outsourcing fire services was amended to also include Jenkins' proposal that the city offer its fire department services to other jurisdictions. With only five council members in attendance (one resigned last week and Wendy McCammack was out ill),  the vote was 3-2 in favor, but it failed to get the necessary four votes to pass.

A 10-year plan proposed by Mayor Pat Morris earlier this month called for outsourcing both police and fire services or getting a price from a competing agency that could serve as a benchmark as city leadership attempts to negotiate lower pay and benefits for those departments.

Monday's meeting was the first since prosecutors in two counties revealed last week that two San Bernardino City Council members had been charged with crimes in separate cases.

San Bernardino County Supervisor Josie Gonzales, whose district includes bankrupt San Bernardino, delivered a scolding lecture to the council.

"People who live here now are disgusted with the type of headlines, disgusting embarrassing headlines, that need to stop," she said.

Jenkins was charged in Riverside County with 30 criminal counts, including identity theft and stalking. He did not address the charges at the council meeting. His arraignment is in December.

Chas Kelley pleaded guilty last week to a count of perjury. He resigned his council seat and withdrew as a candidate for mayor in the Nov. 5 election.