Thursday, March 26, 2009

Butte County: $2.5 million in fire service cuts includes brownouts

OROVILLE — A divided Butte County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved another round of budget cuts, trimming a projected $19.1 million budget deficit by $4.1 million.

The cuts include laying off the equivalent of 42.3 full-time county staffers, and cutting the $2.5 million firefighting contract with the Cal Fire.

With one major exception, the proposed cuts are the same ones the supervisors didn't act on three weeks earlier.

That change, passed on a 3-2 vote, is to not close six foothill fire stations in winter, including ones in the Forest Ranch area, Harts Mill and on the upper Paradise ridge.

Cal Fire-Butte County Fire Chief Henri Brachais told the board and the standing-room-only audience that by making cuts elsewhere and eliminating another field battalion chief position, he would be able to keep the foothill stations open year-round.

The $2.5 million cut in fire service includes "brownouts," which involve closing two county stations a day on a rotating basis.

Deputy County Fire Chief George Morris explained the brownouts will be designed so adjacent stations will not go unmanned at the same time. The goal is to close down one in the north county and one in the south on any given day.

Brachais said the rotating closures will save $1.2 million a year.

The staff cuts will hit almost every other department in the county, but members of the public who spoke focused almost exclusively on fire and library services.

For about two hours a line of citizens came to the lectern to thank the board for finding a way to save the foothill stations and to object to the brownouts.

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