The city of McFarland will not have to pay back nearly $700,000 it owes the Kern County Fire Department under the terms of a new contract proposal the Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday.
However, the fire department says it is happy with the contract, which will allow fire services to continue to be provided to the city through the end of 2020.
“We’re very happy because they are paying the full price, which they have never done,” said Deputy Chief Dean Boller, referring to McFarland.
For 28 years, McFarland had not paid for fire services from the county. That changed in 2017, when the city paid $150,000 to the Kern County Fire Department, which was still far lower than the actual cost of the service.
Under the proposed contract, McFarland will pay the county $233,989.68 by the end of 2020 and the county will retain $413,554.32 in interest it was scheduled to pay back to McFarland after the city completed payments for sheriff’s services that the city discontinued in 2010.
Prior to 2010, the city had used the Sheriff’s Office for public safety, but switched to its own police department, which it said it could be operated for less money.
McFarland still owed the county $2 million for using sheriff’s deputies up to that point, and the county had said that as long as the city had made payments on time, it would give back the interest on those payments.
The final payment is due no later than the end of this year and under the new deal the county will keep the interest and use it for fire services.
But despite operating its own police force, McFarland still does not have a fire department of its own. County firefighters handle fire emergencies within the city.
The old contract, negotiated by former Fire Chief Brian Marshall, expired at the end of June. If a deal had not been worked out, a recent grand jury report said other cities may have been forced to respond to fires in McFarland.
A sticking point in contract negotiations had been the $681,120 the county said it was owed by the city.
The county claimed the old contract required McFarland to pay $68,112 for 10 years to make up the for the cost of the service. The stipulation, however, was never included in the actual written contract, the grand jury reported.
City officials balked at making payments, according to a grand jury report, saying that because the request was not made in writing, they did not need to pay it.
In the end, the county relented.
“The bottom line is it was never formalized,” Boller said. “It wasn’t put in the contract that was signed so we have no legal right to it.”
McFarland officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The McFarland City Council has already approved the contract, Boller said, which means the Board of Supervisors vote would seal the deal.
Supervisors are scheduled to take up the issue during their afternoon session, which begins at 2 p.m. and takes place at the Kern County Administrative Center located at 1115 Truxtun Ave.