By Eric Laughlin
Mother Lode News correspondent
Faced with lower property tax intake this year and a grim prediction for next, Cameron Park Community Services District directors have paved the way to reduce the number of firefighters standing post in the community.
At the February meeting the board unanimously voted in favor of giving Cal Fire the required 120 days notice to potentially reduce staffing levels.
The district’s current contract with the fire agency is set up to fund a staff of 19 firefighters (not including battalion chiefs and office staff), but a minimum of 16 is required to fully staff the engines based in the district. Currently there are 17 on staff, with two vacancies.
Responding to negative reaction from one resident at the meeting, Cameron Park Community Services District Director Rich Green clarified that the vote does not guarantee layoffs.
“Right now we just haven’t gotten to that point,” he said.
Resident Barbara Rogers held back tears as she chimed in during the open forum session prior to the vote. Rogers, who regularly spoke out against construction of the Community Center during what she called a time of economic instability, said public safety should not be compromised.
“Four years ago I said this is where we’d end up,” she said. “And now it’s on the plate. I don’t care if you have to close this building and close every park, we cannot afford to cut our fire service.”
District Battalion Chief Joe Tyler said residents should keep in mind that the number of firefighters has gone up and down since the fire agency first contracted service with the district. He also mentioned the two current vacant positions.
“We’ve gone from 16 personnel to 18 to 21 to 16 to 19,” he said. “So it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a change in the number of staff.”
Earlier in the meeting, Tyler actually outlined an annual contractual amendment agreement, announcing that the district would save $13,615 for the current budget year, stemming from decreases in benefit rates and increased retirement contributions by employees.
CSD General Manager Fred Smith, when asked about the possibility of staffing fewer than 16 firefighters, the threshold that would decrease equipment available to the district, said he doesn’t see it happening. “I would assume we would look at making cuts to other services before that happens,” he explained.
Smith also issued a press release announcing the significant drop in tax assessment earnings; the annual tax disbursement for this fiscal year is forecast to end up $500,000 under budget.
“It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is,” Smith said. “And I’m going to be looking closely at every dollar we spend.”