Chief John Hawkins said "We must make the best choice of bad alternatives," Chief John Hawkins said by telephone Thursday. "We are at that point now."
To help save more than $4.3 million a year, Riverside County's fire chief is proposing closing stations in El Cerrito, Blythe and Oasis and converting three more to volunteer staffing only.
Cal Fire management in Sacramento has agreed to provide the county about $2.2 million in administrative savings this year. Half of that will be passed on to contract cities, leaving the county department with a $4.9 million budget gap to fill.
Last month, supervisors approved the criteria, such as proximity to other stations, which Hawkins and his staff used to make the current closure recommendations.
"The goal is not to short any community but to try to close the budget gap," Hawkins said.
But he said developing the recommendations wasn't easy and acknowledged sleepless nights over the issue. "This is very difficult," he said.
Chief John Hawkins proposal to the board totals $4.38 million in savings for fiscal 2010-11 and would affect more than 65 employees - from rank-and-file firefighters to captains.
The recommendations - including reducing staff at six other stations - go before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and are aimed at helping overcome a $6 million shortfall in the department's budget.
- Close station 15 at 20320 Temescal Canyon Road in the unincorporated community of El Cerrito. Instead, the county would contract with the Corona Fire Department for service to the community.
- Shutter station 43 in downtown Blythe and upgrade stations in nearby Ripley and Blythe Airport to serve the area. The change would leave eight firefighters on duty each day instead of nine.
- Close station 42 in rural Oasis and shift staff to station 40 in Mecca.
- Cal Fire management in Sacramento has agreed to help the county by shifting state-funded engines to county stations, allowing reductions in county-paid staff. The moves would take place in the communities of Goodmeadow, Glenoaks, Cherry Valley and Sage.
- Convert station 51 in El Cariso off the Ortega Highway near Lake Elsinore from career staff to the county's new reserve volunteer program.
- The county would do the same for station 63 in Poppet Flats near Banning and station 77 at Lake Riverside near rural Aguanga in southwest Riverside County.
Under the program, the Fire Department will absorb the county's volunteers into a reserve force similar to Sheriff's Department reserve deputies.
RRU - CAL FIRE/Riverside County Fire engines are state assets that could be called away to battle a wildfire in another part of the state.
In a letter to County Executive Officer Bill Luna, Hawkins said there is "no simple answer to the gap between public safety expectations and funds available to deliver those services."
"Of course, if times were not as dire as they are and if revenues were matching cost expenditures, we would never bring forward these suggested reductions," Hawkins added in his letter.
He said he hopes that when the economy recovers, the department can restore any cut services.
"Our entire plan is based on continuing to deliver service to the public without complaining about required budget reductions," Hawkins wrote.
Story derived from article at pe.com Link