[After posting Humboldt Bay Fire’s Jeff Broberg’s op-ed piece rallying Eureka citizens to save Fire Station 4 this morning, the Outpost received a response from none other than Miles Slattery, Parks and Recreation Director with the city of Eureka. In his piece, Slattery proposes some other ways HBF could restructure so that service levels would not be affected.]
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I wanted the opportunity to respond to Mr. Broberg’s opinion editorial piece on Measure Q.
Public safety is extremely important to this community. The passing of Measures O and Q have demonstrated that the people of Eureka value Police and Fire. To say that they have, and are, being underfunded is deceitful and in no way serves our community. The fact is that 99% of measure Q funding is allocated to Police and Fire. This is not a shell game either. A little over ten years ago, approximately 50% of all general fund monies were allocated to Police and Fire. Currently, over 71% of the general fund is allocated to Police and Fire. So even after the extra four million dollars in revenue Measures O and Q have generated, a larger portion of an even bigger general fund balance has been directed towards Police and Fire.
The City’s finances are not much different than personal finances. When the cost of living increases, my wife tells me we can’t go on our routine summer vacation. When the costs of pensions have increased drastically over the last four years (mainly in Police and Fire), on-going cuts to the budget must be made. There is a structural deficit in the City’s budget, and there has been for many years. The City is no longer able to kick the can down the road. Non public safety departments have been cutting their budget for years now to prevent a collapse. But now it has gotten to the point that such a large portion of the general fund is allocated to public safety that it’s necessary for Police and Fire to participate in cuts.
All departments proposed cuts for this upcoming fiscal year to make sure the structural deficit is addressed. It was the Fire Chief, not the City Manager, who chose to address the Department’s cuts by eliminating over $600,000 in overtime. No loss in staffing is being proposed by the Chief, just decreasing overtime. This will require the “browning out” of the Myrtle Street Station for two-thirds of the time.
Now the Chief could have proposed other options which some may feel wouldn’t affect service levels as much. He could have proposed going away from the two 24-hour shift schedule and four days off in which staff is being paid to sleep approximately sixteen to twenty hours of each shift and change it to four 10-hour shifts similar to Police. This would eliminate a majority of their overtime problems and provide a higher response time as Fire staff who currently get called while they’re sleeping have to wake up, get dressed and then respond. If they were awake during the call while working a 10-hour shift, the response time would increase significantly, and the budget cuts could still be addressed. He could have also proposed minimum staffing levels at each Eureka station, and only utilizing the ladder truck when necessary.
However, this is the way the Chief proposed to address their portion of the structural deficit. This was not proposed by the City Manager or Council. So if you want to discuss budget cuts for any City department, you should discuss it with the person managing the department, not City Council.
And Mr. Broberg, I assume that you are aware that yours and other fire department overtime salary is readily available on the Transparent California webpage. Seeing as though you made approximately $40,000 in overtime in 2012 and 2013; one could make the assessment that your “service” to the community could be achieved more cost effectively. For all other regular employees of the world, overtime is “discretionary.”
—Miles Slattery, Parks and Recreation Director, City of Eureka