Oroville votes to explore contracted police, fire service


OROVILLE, Calif. - The Oroville City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ask for reports from outside agencies on what the monetary cost and overall impact would be if they were to contract out public safety and dissolve the police and fire departments.

The cost of running the two departments is somewhere in the ballpark of $6.9 million, a huge portion of the city's $11.8 million budget.

The council chambers were packed with members of the police and fire departments. They were joined by citizens who addressed the city council about what the perceived costs of contracting those public safety services to CAL FIRE and the Butte County Sheriff's Office would be.

Oroville firefighter Skip George said the community support was amazing to see.

"It felt great to see the community show their support for our local fire department and our local police department when they're possibly being threatened to be investigated on being dissolved," George said.

Many in attendance said they felt like contracting out would mean losing a personal touch the departments provide, and a possible delay in responses would cause insurance prices to skyrocket.

But the city council did their best to calm the crowd, informing them that Tuesday's vote was only to request reports to see what kind of savings they would receive.

In fact, many said they wouldn't vote to dissolve the departments even if the savings were great.

Oroville Mayor Linda Dahlmeier said the council's action is only to assess what options they have to reduce or cover the high costs of public safety, suggesting instead that a tax may be before the voters in two years.

"We have to start somewhere and a lot of times, when you talk about sales tax or public safety tax, you haven't done your homework on the other side, and we're doing our homework on the other side first," Dahlmeier said. "We want to make sure that we gather all of the information. We're giving ourselves enough time to get the job done."

Oroville police officer Gary Vrooman doesn't see it that way.

"Quite honestly it's an excuse to take a bad step. It's an excuse to make them feel better," he said. "And I think, it's a disservice to the department, it's a disservice to the fire department and it's ultimately a disservice to the community."

The unanimous vote by the city council means that official requests will be made to CAL FIRE and the Butte County Sheriff's Office for contracts for service.

The city won't be obligated to take action on the contracts.

A decision on dissolution isn't even on the table yet, and Dahlmeier says it is far away from becoming a reality, if it ever does.