Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 2:42 pm | Fair 62º

 
 
 
 

Commentary: State Budget Burns Carpinteria-Summerland Fire District

The district is forced to make tough decisions to ensure emergency response levels remain unchanged

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state budget, community services were placed in an even worse financial situation.

The Carpinteria-Summerland Fire District is supported almost entirely by local property taxes. When the budget included suspension of Proposition 1A (2004), it required the fire district to transfer 8 percent of local fire protection taxes to the state to balance its multibillion-dollar shortfall. For the district, that means a loss of nearly $600,000 in the next year. The impact to other local governments is similar, but for the fire district that is so heavily reliant on property taxes, the impact is monumental.

It is unfortunate and truly unfair for state officials to pass the effects of their lack of prudent financial management onto local government. Now, through no fault of our own, the district needs to make cuts.

The district has been expecting this raid for a few months and has been discussing the issue at the board level and at the employee group level.

In a speech to the Carpinteria Noon Rotary last week, I outlined the personnel and program cuts that needed to take place to balance the fire district’s budget this year. In that speech, I said that there is no way we can continue business as usual in the next year, and discussed how fire prevention services and public education services would be the first to go.

All fire district employees will feel the pinch. All previously agreed upon cost-of-living adjustments, education incentive pay, time off pay and even staff employee furloughs were agreed to by the employee groups to avoid losing firefighter positions or reducing staffing at fire stations. “We have a truly dedicated employee group here,” Fire Board President Diane Cogburn said.

I agree, and credit the concern for community and concern for the safety of fellow firefighters among the employees that has caused them to sacrifice to keep staffing levels at district fire stations unchanged.

Fire Engineer Brian Roberson, president of the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 2046 said, “It is unbelievable to think that the mess at the state level threatened our emergency services here locally. Thankfully, the Board of Directors, fire chief and firefighters all agree that life safety should not — and will not — be compromised.”

It’s going to be a tough year. At the Rotary luncheon, I made it clear that customer service will be affected in the realm of staff and administrative support. Offices will be closed one week in December, and phone calls may not be answered or returned as quickly as in the past. Some traditional education programs will see a reduction in the next year. The good news is that because of the dedication of our employees, we should see no effect to the emergency response level — which is our primary mission.

The provisions of suspending Proposition 1A requires that the state reimburse local government for the loss of revenue within three years of the tax revenue transfer. The law also states this is a one-time transfer and can’t occur again until the local government is repaid. If the state holds up its end of the bargain, the district will be made whole again no later than June 2013.

The Board of Directors for the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District meets the third Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Carpinteria City Council Chambers.

— Michael Mingee is fire chief for the Carpinteria/Summerland Fire District.

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