Wednesday, December 26, 2007
News: San Juan OK's firefighter $15 stipend
HOLLISTER - The San Juan Bautista City Council approved a $15-per-call stipend Tuesday for its volunteer fire department. In order to afford the payments, officials "moved things around" in the budget, said Councilman Ed Laverone, including cutting one of the city's two sheriff's deputies.
The stipend has been touted by many, including Laverone and Fire Chief Scott Freels, as a first step toward solving the Mission City's firefighter shortage.
In September, Freels told the Free Lance that the size of San Juan Bautista's fire department had fallen from 26 to 10 members in about two years. Most of the city's current firefighters aren't interested in money, he said, but the stipend could help in finding new recruits.
"The discussion of the stipend has already helped with recruitment efforts," said Laverone, a former volunteer firefighter himself.
The new payment system - which the council approved only as a pilot system - will start Jan. 1, Laverone said. To receive the stipend, firefighters will have to file requests for payment, so they can continue to volunteer without a stipend if they want.
With the city's budget problems, the elimination of one sheriff's deputy was already in the works, Laverone said. The Mission City contracts with the San Benito County Sheriff's Office to provide law enforcement. Cutting back will save the city $67,500 for the rest of the fiscal year, he said, of which $7,500 has been budgeted for the stipends.
****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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