Don McDonald

Herald Fire Protection District volunteer firefighter Don McDonald (top left)  thanks the HFPD board for their support and praises the efforts of Fire Chief James Hendricks at the Jan. 20 regular meeting.

At the Jan. 20 meeting of the Herald Fire Protection District (HFPD), directors terminated the contract between the district and CalPERS, amended the 2016-17 budget, approved two policies and received staff reports and updates.

Before directors began official business, the floor was opened for public comment, at which time volunteer firefighter Don McDonald addressed the board on behalf of the volunteer firefighters association.

“The last 11 months, under the direction of Chief Hendricks, the volunteers have risen to a new standard and service to the district,” said McDonald. “The chief has earned the respect and support of the volunteers by his commitment to a department that puts safety first in both the community as well as the line personnel. This has been achieved by the countless hours that the chief has spent in facilitating training, ensuring that the district has proper equipment, as well as being a true leader. He does not ask anything of his people that he himself would not be willing to do.

“I want to publicly thank him for making this department one that volunteers not only want to work for, but enjoy working for. This district would not be where it is today without him.”

After a long one-year waiting process, HFPD directors voted 5-0 to officially sever the fire district’s relationship with CalPERS at the Jan. 20 meeting.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Chairman Don Siegalkoff in an interview with The Galt Herald staff. “The program was unsustainable with our limited size and budget. The longer we stayed in the program the deeper we would sink.”

Siegalkoff and Director Lindsey Liebig said the decision didn’t come lightly, and only came after both interim fire chief Tony Corado and interim fire chief Brian Brown recommended the district withdraw from the retirement program.

“Our decision to end our contract with CalPERS, was based solely on our ability to maintain a sustainable financial future for the district,” Liebig said. “Had we stayed on course with our contract, we would not have had the ability to expand our volunteer force in a manner that offers 24-hour coverage of the district with increased staffing needs, and would have continued down a path that directed district funds to personnel only and not the equipment and apparatus they need to adequately perform their duties.”

Directors started the withdrawal process January 2016 and, according to CalPERS policy, had to wait an entire year before officially terminating the relationship. However, the benefits stopped accruing Jan. 20, 2016 when the district notified CalPERS of its intent. At that time Lance Newhall and Cheryl Sheldon voted unanimously with Liebig, Siegalkoff and Brian Hurlbut to end the relationship.

Now that the official waiting period is over, CalPERS will need to generate the district’s valuation and liabilities obligation for those currently on the rolls. According to Liebig, only a small number of district employees participated in CalPERS since it was started in 1995.

Estimations for HFPD’s unfunded liabilities have ranged from the low 10 thousands to over $400,000. Directors said the latest they heard from CalPERS was that the total will not be available for several months, despite CalPERS claim on its website that its agency would provide the magic number at the time of termination.

Although the opportunity to terminate the contract is provided in Government Code Section 20570, Herald fire is one of only a handful of entities in California to sever the relationship, and the first in Sacramento County.

Many small cities and other special districts throughout the state have tried to terminate CalPERS, but once faced with the “termination bill”, chose to continue with the program.

In the meantime, HFPD has offered a 457b plan for employees, which is similar to the 401K plans offered in the private sector. Currently, the district does not contribute to the employees’ plans.

In other business, directors approved budget amendments, which, among other things, included reallocating funds to pay for personnel clothing and equipment as the district continues to increase its volunteer roster.

Two policies were unanimously approved at the meeting. Policy 2270 addresses social media use, and Policy 2001 sets procedures for processing payroll.

In his staff report, Chief Hendricks told directors that, for the month of December, the district responded to 27 calls, had an average response time of just over five and half minutes, and held over 10 training sessions, logging in over 338 hours of training.