CAMERON PARK — Faced with lower property tax intake this year and a grim prediction for next, Cameron Park has formally paved the way toward reducing the number of firefighters standing post in the community.
In its monthly meeting last week, the board voted unanimously in favor of giving Cal Fire the required 120 days notice to potentially reduce staffing levels.
The district’s current contract with the fire agency is set up to fund a staff of 19 firefighters (not including battalion chiefs and office staff), but a minimum of 16 is required to fully staff the engines based in the district. Currently there are 17 on staff, since two vacancies remain.
Responding to negative reaction from one resident in attendance at the meeting, Cameron Park Community Services District Director Rich Green clarified that the vote does not guarantee layoffs.
“Right now we just haven’t gotten to that point,” he said.
Resident Barbara Rogers held back tears as she chimed in during the open forum session prior to the vote. Rogers, who regularly spoke out against construction of the Community Center during what she called a time of economic instability, said public safety should not be compromised.
“Four years ago I said this is where we’d end up,” she said. “And now it’s on the plate. I don’t care if you have to close this building and close every park, we cannot afford to cut our fire service.”
District Battalion Chief Joe Tyler said residents should keep in mind that the number of firefighters has gone up and down since the fire agency first contracted service with the district. He also mentioned the two current vacant positions.
“We’ve gone from 16 personnel to 18 to 21 to 16 to 19,” he said. “So it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a change in the number of staff.”
Earlier in the meeting, Tyler actually outlined an annual contractual amendment agreement, announcing that the district would save $13,615 for the current budget year, stemming from decreases in the benefit rate and increased retirement contributions by employees.
District Manager Fred Smith said he wasn’t sure if the district has previously given the 120 day notice since first contracting with Cal Fire in 1996, but Director Alan Clarke confirmed that a letter of this kind had not been issued under his tenure, which began in 2002.
When asked about the possibility of staffing fewer than 16 firefighters, the threshold that would decrease equipment available to the district, Smith said he doesn’t see it happening.
“I would assume we would look at making cuts to other services before that happens,” he said.
Smith also issued a press release Friday announcing the significant drop in tax assessment earnings.
In it he writes, “If the current decline in revenues remains consistent with the first disbursement of property taxes, the district will be faced with a 30 percent decrease from last year’s property tax allocation.”
He also states that the annual tax disbursement for this fiscal year is forecast to end up $500,000 under budget.
“It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is,” he said Saturday. “And I’m going to be looking closely at every dollar we spend.”