Firefighters Want to be Annexed into CA County DistrictMIKE LAMB ON MAY 19, 2016
May 18--BARSTOW -- The president of the Barstow Professional Firefighters Association urged the City Council on Monday to consider annexing the Barstow Fire Protection District into the San Bernardino County district.
"I want to make the suggestion that we go forward with the proposal and look into that wholeheartedly," Barstow Fire Protection District Firefighter John Wymore said. He told the Council that the district is losing too many experienced firefighters to retirement and other departments.
Wymore attended a Barstow Fire District budget workshop earlier in the evening which offered an optimistic outlook that the district could stabilize despite the struggle to successfully transition pension plans from the San Bernardino County Employees' Retirement Association to the California Public Employees Retirement System.
One of the options on the table if the district fails to stabilize is being annexed into the county district.
"This fiscal year we are projecting revenues to be $4.7 million," Assistant City Manager Cindy Prothro reported during the workshop. "Expenditures are tracking at $5.1 million and we project a shortfall of just over a third of a million (dollars), which is a little higher than what we projected earlier this year."
But Prothro said the one factor that has been difficult to track is retirements.
"Otherwise we would have been tracking on or just under budget for the shortfall," she said.
Prothro is expecting the district to end the 2015-16 fiscal year at a negative fund balance of $1.2 million. But she said the district may see stabilization in 2016-17.
"We are expecting a loss of $135,000, which includes lease payments for a fire engine of $95,000," she said. "While we have another fire engine that needs to be replaced, our recommendation is not going after another engine (until) after the engine is paid off. We want to wait a year or two before we entertain acquiring another vehicle so we can help stabilize the district."
Mayor Pro Tem Tim Silva expressed concerns about maintaining proper staff levels.
"What it boils down to is what is our comfortable staffing levels," Barstow Fire Protection Chief Richard Ross. "Right now we consider that to be six (firefighters) per day is the bare minimum."
The department employs 18 firefighters besides Ross. But Wymore took issue with the staffing when speaking to the City Council.
"We (workshop) were talking about alternatives for the staffing. One of those that came up was reducing staffing at one of the fire stations in the district," Wymore said. "Currently, we run six firefighters a day and we are running more calls than ever. Last year we ran 5,500 calls -- a little bit more than 5,500. That's the most calls ever run in a single year.
"This year we are on track to probably do 6,000. Right at that range if we continue on the same track. So this really concerns me."
Wymore said the district has been losing firefighters to retirement and to other fire departments. He said some of those firefighters are longtime employees in Barstow.
"In the last year to 18 months we have lost four guys. One to retirement and three others to departments that are paying considerably better than us. Unfortunately, this retirement thing is really kicking our butts. We are paying the largest portion of retirement and I can tell you that is why we are losing guys. No other reason than that.
"The captain that retired, he retired directly because of that. And the other three firefighters left because of that."
He asked if the fire board would consider the district taking on 100 percent of the pension portion until a solution is found.
Fire District board Chairman Carmen Hernandez called for more research before any decisions are made.
"Because what unfortunately happened the first time we took over we didn't have what I believe was all the information we should have," she said. "We also have to have some input from the firefighters and their association. I think we need more updates more frequently so everybody has more understanding."
Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-957-0613 or email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @mlambdispatch.
Copyright 2016 - Desert Dispatch, Barstow, Calif.