By Jeff Horseman | jhorseman@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise
Published: April 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm |
Updated:   April 11, 2017  at 10:13 am

Cutting 11 jobs and changing the staffing mix on fire engines are two ideas Riverside County supervisors will consider as they try to close an $11.9 million shortfall in the Fire Department’s budget for next fiscal year.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, April 11, will take up recommendations from supervisors Kevin Jeffries and John Tavaglione, who sit on an ad-hoc fire service committee.

Like other county agencies, the Fire Department is struggling to make ends meet as new expenses outpace revenue. The county has a contract with Cal Fire for fire protection, an arrangement that dates to 1921.

A tentative deal between Cal Fire and the union representing firefighters gives raises to firefighters whose pay lags behind their counterparts. The raises are expected to add almost $12 million to the county’s labor costs next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Last month, Fire Chief John Hawkins detailed a list of cost-cutting suggestions, from closing the Poppet Flats fire station to replacing some three-firefighter engines with two-firefighter rapid response units. Hawkins also proposed seeking reimbursement for emergency medical services from patients served by Cal Fire.

The ad-hoc committee’s suggestions keep Poppet Flats open and don’t include the two-firefighter model, which the union said would compromise public safety. There’s also no plan to seek EMS reimbursement.

Instead, the committee suggests doing away with 11 administrative positions in a bid to have Cal Fire cover the cost of those jobs through the yearly administrative fee the county pays. County officials contend they’re not getting their money’s worth from the fee they pay Cal Fire, which went from $14.8 million in 2012 to almost $21 million for next fiscal year.

Deputy Chief Scott McLean, a Cal Fire spokesman in Sacramento, said Cal Fire had not received any documentation from the county as of Monday.

To cut staffing costs, Jeffries and Tavaglione also want to replace captains and engineers on fire engines with more firefighters. They propose reclassifying 49 firefighting positions to reflect the new staffing mix.

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