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Watsonville
February 24, 2024

New fire station not recommended, executive team gets pay increase

WATSONVILLE—The addition of a third fire station would not significantly improve Watsonville Fire Department’s response time to most neighborhoods, according to a 142-page report presented to the Watsonville City Council at its Tuesday meeting.

Fitch & Associates found that while a third station on the east side of the city could help move WFD’s response time from six minutes to five, the new station would not help the department get to the ambitious four-minute benchmark recommended by the National Fire Protection Association for the arrival of “basic life support.”  

Currently, WFD responds to 94.44% of calls within six minutes with its two stations on the north and south sides of the city, and the department meets the four-minute mark 65.07% of the time.

A third station, near the East Lake Shopping Center, would allow WFD to respond more quickly to calls on the east side of the city—including the older adult villages—and it would move the overall four-minute response rate to 77.36%.

Fitch & Associates consultant Steven Knight said that the agency would only recommend the creation of a third station if the response rate would reach the 90% range. So building a third station would be “policy decision” from the city council, Knight said.

The report was commissioned by the city as a requirement of Measure Y, the renewal of a half-cent sales tax approved by Watsonville voters in 2019. The city is obligated to do this study within two years of the release of decennial census data.

The city council accepted the report with an amendment from Mayor Ari Parker to include how changes to the city’s downtown corridor currently being discussed would impact WFD’s response rates.

Although Fitch & Associates did not recommend the addition of a third fire station, it did make smaller recommendations such as working with the County 911 center to improve call processing time.

Fire Chief Rudy Lopez said that building a third station—whether it be a full-service station or a small medical response location—is not a priority for the department at this time but that could change in the future.

“In the long term, it’s something that we will look at as we develop strategic plans,” Lopez said. 

Executive Team’s Top Pay Increased

The council also approved an increase to the “top step,” or maximum salary, of the city’s department heads, a move City Manager Pro-Tempore Tamara Vides says is needed to help with staff retention and recruitment.

The executive team will now be split into two tiers. Tier A includes the assistant city manager, police chief and Public Works & Utilities director, and Tier B contains the heads of the Administrative Services, Airport, Community Development, Information Technology, Library and Parks and Community Services departments as well as the fire chief and deputy city manager.

The assistant city manager—Vides—will be the only Tier A employee that will see a pay increase, moving from a maximum monthly salary of $16,033 to $16,964 already in place for the police chief and Public Works director. In Tier B, the top step will rise to $15,772—an increase in the maximum pay for all eight employees in that tier.

The increase is effective immediately.

Councilmembers Rebecca Garcia and Vanessa Quiroz-Carter voted “no” on the item. Both said that they didn’t see why the step increase needed to be implemented at this time. In addition, Garcia said she took issue with the fact that the executive team is already set to receive a 2.5% pay increase at the beginning of the next fiscal year.

“I know how hard you work, however, our other employees also work over and beyond—they work very, very hard, too,” Garcia said. “I can’t support giving two raises in one year.”

The council acknowledged several emails sent to the elected leaders asking them to vote against the move. Mayor Parker said that there were some “erroneous” viewpoints in those emails and that the increase was a move the council was making to make sure that city employees are “happy in what they do.”

“We have some positive funding for a little while and the projections are good, and we want to be able to take advantage of that for all of our employees,” she said. “At this point, you can’t do everything at once. You take it by steps and that’s what we’re merely doing. We chose this group to start with, and we’ll continue with another group.”

Organic Waste Bins 

Over the next three weeks, all single-family Watsonville homes will receive a green organic waste bin and Public Works staff will begin collecting the food scraps and yard waste that must now be dumped into the new containers.

Public Works Director Christian Di Renzo in a presentation on Tuesday said that the city will also come up with plans of how to implement the state-mandated initiative at apartment complexes and businesses in the coming months.

There will be no additional cost for the service.

The change is a result of Senate Bill 1383. That law was approved by the State Legislature in 2016 as a way to push cities to meet a 2025 deadline to reduce by 75% the landfilled organic waste and increase edible food “recovery” by 20%.

City council unanimously approved an ordinance to come into alignment with the law. It will require the city to, among other things, set up a food recovery program with local businesses and schools, and come up with an education and enforcement program for the initiative.

Residents who already have a green yard waste bin are asked to use those collectors as their organic waste bin.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.

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