Funds were previously earmarked for fire department

The City of Taft is going to take money from a fire fund to put out another fire, in a manner of speaking.

It's going to put it in a special account established as a buttress against rapidly increasing employee retirement costs.

The Taft City Council voted unanimously on Nov. 20 to liquidate a reserve fund established in 2007 to help fund a fire department of the contract when Kern County fire protection didn't work out, and put the $2.5 million into a Public Agency Retirement System (PARS) account.

The $2.5 million fire fund was established after the City decided to close its fire department and contract with Kern County for fire protection services at a significant savings.

The City put away $5 million per year for five years.
Now, confident in its contract with the county and facing a future funding crisis that could cut into the City's ability to provide services, it has decided the money could best be used to fund retirement costs.

The fire fund was established with strict guidelines.

"...it would require an unanimous vote and make specific findings that the funds are no longer necessary for fire protection and safety, or that the funds are being utilized for fire protection and safety services and additionally shall find that termination of the reserve fund is in the best interests of the

health, safety and welfare of the community," a City staff report said.

The City's finance committee made the recommendation to take the fire fund money and use it for the PARS fund.

"The Finance Committee has recommended that the full council consider to redistribute the reserve fund for the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of the community," the staff report said. "They also have made the recommendation that these funds be invested at PARS to increase the City's rate of return. The funds will be used in the future to pay unfunded liability expense at CalPERS and these future liabilities do include retirement cost from Fire Safety Plan along with the City's other plans."

Jones said the cost of restarting a fire department has gone up and continuing to contract with the KCFD is the best deal for the City.

"I don't think the City is in the financial position (to operate its own fire department," Jones said.