Wednesday, April 16, 2014

County Fire votes for limited brownout

From page A1 | January 27, 2014 | 14 Comments

Facing a likely cash flow shortfall in April, the El Dorado County Fire Protection District has decided to head it off by browning out a station and applying for a line of credit.

Making that decision at a special board meeting held Jan. 22, Board President Dennis Thomas opened the meeting by saying the district had a cash flow, not a budget problem, and despite what they were proposing to do, he expected the district to end the fiscal year $300,000 under budget as long as nothing unexpected happened. Thomas went on to note that the district had already cut its budget by $1.2 million from the previous fiscal year as a result of new contracts struck with the firefighters, retirees and chief officers as well as internal cuts that had been made.

However despite all these measures, Thomas said additional actions were needed because the district wouldn’t receive all its revenue until mid to late June.

“It has been this way for several years now,” he said, “but I don’t anticipate this problem next year or the years that follow.”

Blaming the district’s fiscal problems on the recession and the budget process during the past four fiscal years, Thomas predicted the district will come in $500,000 to $800,000 under budget by the end of the next fiscal year with the surplus going toward rebuilding the agency’s reserves.

Chief Mike Hardy added, “A year ago we were $1.5 million in the red. A fiscal crisis was looming, layoffs and possibly bankruptcy … However, as the newly appointed fire chief, I asked the board to give me some time because I was pretty confident we could make it. I promised the board we could cut $1.2 million from our budget and we’ve actually cut out $1.5 million … We are on track to be a very successful, dynamic fire agency and I’m very proud of everybody for doing it. The problem now is we have a cash flow issue.”

Ticking off all the things they had done to date to reduce expenses, Hardy said the district has gone from seven chief officers to four, laid off a full-time maintenance and IT person, and reduced a full-time receptionist to part-time. The union gave up two full-time firefighter positions and the district has gone from 17 to 15 firefighters. All employees are now paying 10 percent of their PERs (retirement). All active and retiree medical benefits have been modified and capped, said Hardy, and we modified accruals for vacation and sick leave to cut down on overtime. But after all that, he said the district may still be a little short because of when the remainder of its revenue arrives.

CPA Michael Ocenosak, who handles many of the fiscal duties for the fire district, then gave the board a detailed cash flow analysis, saying the county can’t loan the district any money past the end of April when they receive the remainder of their property tax revenue. Property taxes provide slightly more than $7 million of the district’s $9.4 million revenue with the remainder coming from other sources. Adding that it is only prudent to take steps now to prevent any shortfall, he advised the board to approve Hardy’s recommendations in addition to seeking a line of credit, even if it’s never needed.

“We’re solvent and will end the year with an overage,” he said, “but I’m concerned about the timing of cash flows.”

El Dorado County Auditor-Controller Joe Harn, who was present at the meeting along with Supervisor Brian Veerkamp, also advised the district to set up a credit line saying the district operates on a “razor-thin margin.”

Hardy said in order to gain the additional $300,000 to $350,000 in savings needed by the end of June, they would have to reduce service levels by one engine, which means six employees. We’re already down by two positions, and there’s a good chance we’ll be down by two more in the next few weeks, he said. We could reduce the service level by one engine and not impact our employees, adding that the remaining two employees assigned to that engine could be used to fill in for staff who go on vacation or leave, thus reducing overtime costs.

Getting down to specifics, Hardy recommended the cuts be made to Station 74, the one serving the Coloma/Lotus area. He said it handled the lowest percentage of calls last year and is surrounded by other fire districts that can assist. Currently Station 74 has two apprentice firefighters, Hardy said. To cut costs, he recommended using apprentice firefighters to staff a different station, possibly the one in Camino, while transferring firefighters and captains elsewhere. He estimated doing so would generate savings of $343,000 if they started the brownout Feb. 1.

With discussion among the directors ranging from going to rolling brownouts to using volunteers as part of the solution, in the end the board left it up to Hardy to decide the best way to staff the stations. Included in the motion was sunsetting the brownout so it expires at the beginning of the new fiscal year that starts July 1. They also voted in support of pursuing a line of credit for the district.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.


Discussion | 14 comments

  • Tom stirsJanuary 27, 2014 - 7:39 am

    Every fire department is feeling the pinch, why are all the prop 172 funds going to EDSO only?? What are we going to do when these departments fail and homes start burning or we have to wait an hour for a paramedic. Why isn't the board of supervisors doing anything?? All the public safety tax goes to law enforcement and not fire. It will be on your hands EDC BOS when your citizens pay the price for not stepping in!

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  • SaddiegielJanuary 27, 2014 - 9:29 am

    Sad that it has come to this.....just hope that nobody losses a love one due to increased response time...remember minutes count in saving lives.

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  • Truth SeekerJanuary 27, 2014 - 10:25 am

    Tom Stirs; prop 172 funds?? Get your facts straight, this fire district gave out raises (38% plus) over a four year period when the housing market was taking a dive. When other government agencies were tightening their belts, EDCFPD was giving away the bank. Check with the county auditor's office; 90% of the budget is spent on salaries and benefits. This is why they are broke, coupled with the fact they owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the JPA for loaned labor. And then there is the St. 28 rebuild, they have been using the tax dollars collected on the benefit assessment to pay off that station loan to plug budget shortfalls. he taxpayers of Shingle Springs were lied to. Do your research people before you start speaking. This fire district squandered millions tax dollars.

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  • Tom stirsJanuary 27, 2014 - 11:25 am

    My statement about not receiving prop 172 funds is 100% accurate so you should think before you speak. The agency with all it's cuts is running at a fraction of what it used to and still isn't making it. You don't hear EDSO having any money problems do you? That's because they are receiving 8-10 million Dollars in prop 172 funds, that tax as well as measure H is supposed to go to all public safety, not just law enforcement. I am quite certain I know what I am talking about as I am retired from both law and fire in California.

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  • Dink LaneJanuary 27, 2014 - 12:38 pm

    I just read a poll that said 85% of the voters DO NOT trust their elected officials ....... AND this WHY!....... Prop 197.... told our elected officials .... PUBLIC SAFETY 1st..... Not after new pretty buildings or CAO headhunters.... or fancy Retirement packages....... Our property tax of 1% + 2 EXTRA voluntary taxes for PUBLIC SAFETY..... PLUS ..... and additional $150 Fire Fee.......... If we're going to "Brown Out" anything...... Let's Brown-out the BoS pay or the Sheriff's AND the DA's "Extra" pay over their $100,000+ pay checks???? I didn't vote for a double dipping Sheriff and District Attorney..... Let's brown that out..... and don't tell us you can't because you have a contract..... YOU have a CONTRACT with the EDC taxpayer 1st!

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  • Oh BrotherJanuary 27, 2014 - 12:58 pm

    Right on Dink! This is the kind of banding together that all of us in EDC need to fight for! This is exactly the attitude I would like to see from Cookie 65, Dee#1 et al., stick together in our local politics first and then move forward!.Accountability, honesty and integrity from our elected local officials!! If we all stuck together, perhaps we wouldn't be afraid to say our real names for a change...if you are afraid of persecution for yourself or family and you are out there alone fighting of course you won't post your real name. Some of the mean and hateful things posted on here are prime examples.

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  • Dink LaneJanuary 27, 2014 - 12:43 pm

    *** Correction... Prop 172... (sorry)

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  • Fran DuchampJanuary 27, 2014 - 1:23 pm

    Oh Brother...I think I know who you are :) anyway...many things come top one really has to watch sideways almost to see anything.

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  • 1036-FrankJanuary 27, 2014 - 4:48 pm

    Coloma/Lotus should be staffed at all times by a minimum crew and if there are no funds then the BOS needs to find some funds or people there should divert the state fire fee, it is just too far for a response from other stations. The amount of people using the area of Coloma for river recreation and tourists using the state park requires staffing, sending staff to Camino which has a fast freeway response from other stations makes zero sense.

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  • Dink LaneJanuary 27, 2014 - 4:56 pm

    What and give up their NEW office chair or Vern Pierson give up his SECOND paycheck? Are you some kind of "taker'?

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  • 1036-FrankJanuary 27, 2014 - 5:44 pm

    I say for the future, take the department head cost savings and divert them to county fire to staff remote stations, until then the BOS needs to divert something from somewhere to keep the minimum in place which for the Lotus/Coloma Valley should be a minimum crew and a paramedic.

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  • SaddiegielJanuary 28, 2014 - 10:35 am

    All I can say is we "the residents" are just as responsible for the misuse of funds...we let it happen, how many of us attended any of the monthly board meetings and asked to see a financial report? How many once we saw what they were spending $$ on said "now wait a minute"? i do know for a fact that the amount I'm charged on my property tax bill for "northside fire" has not increased in at least 20 years. Imagine today receiving the same pay check that you did 20 years way could you survive. I know that NOT all firefighters have received the % of increase many have reported, I'm guessing just the higher-ups have received those giant raises. There are few taxes/fees I agree with, but fire and police are really the only 2 I dont have a problem paying for. They are the ones that I hope I never need, but by damn if I do, I want them to be top notch with the best equipment to do the job and get to mein mins. Every station should be ALS supported, the time it takes another station to respond, could mean the differenct between life & death. Is the life of your loved one worth a few bucks?..and no I dont work in fire or law enforcement, but have seen first hand how they save lives.

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  • Coloma residentJanuary 28, 2014 - 1:39 pm

    Finally!! Yes Saddiegiel, you are right. People do not attend meetings,they do not see how their tax dollars are spent. We have the right to know what it going on. Why should we have to read it in the paper that a fire station is going to be closed? Why? This district has known for almost two years that they were in trouble. The have hidden the facts from the public, like most public agencies do. You only have to go to the auditor's website and look at all the special districts' budgets. It is clear that there raises given to all personnel when they were fat, then the crash came and things got tight. You are correct, people out in Coloma and Northside taxes are much lower than in other areas. I would pay a bit more to ensure the services.I the prior Chief and his team for what has happened to this fire district. They all got out with 90 percent of their pay and left the remaining people to figure it out.

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