Thursday, May 23, 2013
Milpitas Fire Department Budget Woes Cause Brownout, Truck Four OOS
Milpitas firefighters laid off
"This reduction in force will extend into the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal year," Sturdivant said.
Posted: 04/24/2013 02:18:10 PM PDT
Layoffs of Milpitas Fire Department personnel occurred yesterday and a truck was taken out of service to offset an overtime budget deficit. However, previously stated plans to terminate four firefighters were revised.
"There will be three firefighters laid off," Milpitas Fire Chief Brian Sturdivant confirmed Monday.
The fire department funded one firefighter vacancy more than expected, based on seniority.
Regardless of one less layoff, the fire union's president this week said he opposes any staffing reductions actions he feels could potentially harm the safety of firefighters as well as citizens.
"I'm disagreeing with any layoffs," Steve King, president of the Milpitas International Association of Firefighters Local 1699, said.
With the loss of personnel, the city's four-station fire department will "brown out" a fire truck at the firehouse that sees the fewest calls for service in the city per year Station No. 4 at 775 Barber Lane. According to departmental records, Station No. 4 saw a total of 32 calls for service last December versus more than 110 calls for service for the same month at each of the city's three other fire stations.
"Truck 4 will be taken out of service, replaced at Station No. 4 by Truck 1, also effective on (Thursday)," Sturdivant said.
He added with two months remaining in the 2012-13 fiscal year, which ends June 30, the cost savings will be $80,000 to $100,000.
The fire chief said his department does not anticipate impacts to service levels for residents. He added all staffing and operational changes will be "closely monitored with reconsiderations taken to the council as soon as possible."
The reductions follow an increase of overtime use in Milpitas Fire Department, where the average gross wages ($151,700 in 2012) plus full benefits cost the city about $249,000 annually per employee.
Milpitas Fire Department's overtime allocation for the 2012-13 fiscal year was approved in the amount of $523,484. But for the first six months, the fire department monthly overtime averaged $167,800, for a total of $1,006,795 through December.
Those numbers were driven, according to city officials, by an absentee rate approaching 25 percent daily.
A federal grant proposed by members of the fire union to negate the terminations and bolster the fire department's workforce was supported by the Milpitas City Council earlier this spring.
But last month the fire union's membership voted to reject the plan. The union stated it would impact the current contracted minimum staffing, though the city is now considering lowering that number to 14 on-duty firefighters per shift or less, instead of 15.
King said city leaders wrongly linked the grant with reducing the union's minimum staffing ratios below current levels to achieve further expense savings.
"It's less people doing the same amount of work," King said of what he perceived as an erosion of public safety services. "ÉYou end up doing less with less."
Last week, on April 16, the council voted 4-1 to approve a resolution essentially stating all other alternatives had been considered with respect to these layoffs and that no alternatives other than layoffs would resolve the fire department's overtime issue.
Councilman Armando Gomez voted against the resolution, stating he did not have enough information on how decreases in overtime had occurred so rapidly, supposedly from $180,000 down to $75,000 monthly. Gomez also acknowledged federal grant monies might have been used to prevent layoffs though he voted with the rest of the council in March to abort the federal grant opportunity.
The fire department has expended $1.195 million on overtime from July through March. Sturdivant added overtime usage was $71,452 last month.
"At this time, all budget considerations and options have been exhausted," he said.
****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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