At a meeting of the Amador Fire Protection Authority on Thursday, January 7, the oversight board attempted to act as referee in a debate between fire chiefs over Measure M funds and addressed criticisms launched at the board by the Amador Grand Jury.

The AFPA board approved its formal written response to the Grand Jury report issued in October, rejecting most of the criticism and policy suggestions made by the Grand Jury. The AFPA was formed by a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) between the Amador County’s seven fire agencies after the passage of Measure M, which raised the sales tax in the county by half a percent to provide funding for local fire departments.

The Grand Jury report stated that the AFPA is not performing the functions called for in the JPA, such as long-term planning and seeking fire department consolidation, as well as having adequate staff to perform those functions.

The response letter acknowledges the lack of activity, but argues the JPA should be changed to reflect the AFPA’s current activities, rather than changing what the AFPA is doing.

The Grand Jury report also listed a number of incidents of misconduct by local fire chiefs, such as interfering with other department’s training or incident response, and calls for action from the AFPA Board. In its response, the AFPA said the accusations were “serious, but vague” and that they should be investigated by the governing authority of the fire department(s) in question, such as its City Council or Board of Directors. The board did schedule a meeting for next month to begin work on changing its JPA to address the Grand Jury.

The meeting also saw sparring between fire departments over proposed changes to the way Measure M funds are distributed. Funds from the half percent sales tax increase are distributed to the county’s fire departments based on population and call volume. The Amador Fire Protection District (AFPD) proposed a change to the calculation of call volume that would increase the number of calls credited to AFPD. That proposal was opposed by the other departments.

During the sometimes heated discussion, AFPD Chief Walter White and Sutter Creek Fire Chief Dominic Moreno had several sharp exchanges over the policy and the data and history that supported each of their positions. In the end, the AFPA agreed to present the existing call volume formula to the Amador County Board of Supervisors, but to also allow Chief White to present his alternative proposal, with the final decision left to the Supervisors.