Budget shortfalls cut firefighting expenses

February 19, 2008 7:14:18 PM PST
Tough economic times for the state mean tough, and sometimes controversial, choices. Case in point is what's happening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A budget short-fall is forcing county supervisors to cut state fire services.

While state agencies costs are going up , they are impacting county governments as well. In Santa Cruz County, a budget short fall forced supervisors to cut state fire services. It's a decision that's outraging some residents.

The county's decision will now cut Cal Fire's services at four stations:
-Big Creek

All the four stations will each have six fewer fire fighters because of cost.

"The cost of doing business has gone up considerably so we recognized a year ago, that to maintain status quo service delivery, we need a fee increase," says Paul Helm, Department Chief of Cal Fire.

Back in October, voters had the chance to pass a proposition that would have raised their assessment taxes from 117 dollars to 213 dollars a year and that would've raised enough money to take care of this whole fire department issue. However, voters chose to knock it down.

Cal Fire's contract costs $2.4 million dollars and the tax would have covered nearly a million of it.

Bob Williams wears his anger on his sleeve. His frustration stems from the county's decision to cut Cal Fire's services at four stations.

"Nobody wants to pay more taxes, but if I had the choice of my house burning down or not, obviously, I choose not," says Bob Williams, resident.

Marilyn Thelen doesn't feel the cuts will impact service in her area that much. She also doesn't think the burden to find a budget shortfall solution should be on tax payers.

"It would be nice if the county budget could be restructured so that the cuts didn't have to happen in the first place so that the assessment wasn't necessary to replace what we were lacking," says Thelen.

What is lacking with these cuts, as far as Cal Fire is concerned, is safety.

"When we're down to bare bones staffing, you're setting yourself up for situations that are not healthy," says Paul Helm, Department Chief of Cal Fire.

Fewer people responding to emergencies, they say, are never good odds. As long as the county's dollars don't add up, cuts will continue.