The Morning Report
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For weeks, supervisor candidate Stephen Whitburn has called the county’s funding for fire protection inadequate without saying where it should get more money or what it should buy.
This morning, Whitburn announced his first proposal on the issue through a press release. He says the county should tap budget reserves and put four-person crews at 18 rural fire stations throughout the wildfire season. He estimates that would cost the county an additional $10 million.
The proposal resembles a recommendation made this spring by Citygate Associates, a fire consultant hired by the county that had suggested spending $2.1 million annually to add one career firefighter to each of the rural stations, which are now staffed by a minimum of two volunteer firefighters.
Last week, the supervisors voted to wait until 2012 to study the Citygate’s recommendation. The county now pays volunteer firefighters a stipend to meet the two-person minimum and improve emergency response coverage in rural areas. By comparison, hiring career firefighters would involve higher costs like salaries and benefits, which the supervisors worry they don’t have the money for.
Whitburn, who’s vying to unseat Supervisor Ron Roberts this November, suggested the county take one-time funding from its $700 million in reserves, which have been saved up for catastrophic events and to help the county’s bond rating on Wall Street.
“I understand the need for reserves,” Whitburn said in the press release. “I am suggesting we use a very small amount rather than continue to risk lives the way the county does every fire season.”
Roberts was not immediately available to comment on Whitburn’s proposal because he was traveling.