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City Councilwoman Marti Emerald and Councilman Tony Young called on Mayor Jerry Sanders last week to restore some of the city’s fire engines in the wake of a toddler’s death. They suggested paying for the fire engines with reserves from either the city’s operating budget or emergency funds.

At a City Council committee meeting this afternoon, the Mayor’s Office pushed their suggestions aside. Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone said the economic forecast is too unstable to trim the city’s reserves, a financial safety net.

“As it stands right now, there are no intentions of dipping into the reserves,” Goldstone told the committee, which includes Emerald and Young. “That’s our position at this point in time.”

Goldstone said the city shouldn’t touch the reserves since they may be needed to close a projected $73 million deficit next year. To save $11.5 million this year, the city has idled up to eight fire engines on a rolling basis. Bringing each fire engine back into service with reserves would cost the city about $1.4 million apiece and add those costs to next year’s deficit.

Last week, an idled fire engine contributed to an admittedly slow response to a choking toddler. It took fire crews about nine-and-a-half minutes to respond to help the toddler, 2-year-old Bentley Do, who later died. It’s unclear whether Do’s death could have been prevented by a faster response, but residents and public officials have seized upon the incident to call for more coverage.

“You didn’t do your job and a kid is dead,” said Andy Berg, president of the Rancho Peñasquitos Town Council, one of the neighborhoods most affected by the idled fire engines.

Emerald suggested the City Council could use emergency funding to bring some of the fire engines back into service. The emergency reserves are meant to be used when there’s a threat to public safety, Emerald said, asking Goldstone if the reduced fire services meet that requirement.

“It’s hard to say. Obviously the incident with the child is very unfortunate,” Goldstone said. But he added, “Even without the brownouts, we have unfortunate incidents that occur.”

Although the committee discussed using reserve funds, it did not move toward a proposal. The City Council’s immediate attention is focused on emergency discussions about a half-cent sales tax increase.

— KEEGAN KYLE

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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