Fire station closure is possible
South Lake Tahoe Fire Department is imagining what it would be like without their middle station.
Under direction by the city manager, the department is preparing scenarios in case their $3.6 million budget is cut 5 or 10 percent.
Fire officials said the department’s finances are already at the “bare bones” and any cuts would be significant.
“I guess the best thing I can say is when I was asked to prepare a budget of a 5-percent or 10-percent decrease it went somewhere nobody wants to see,” said Fire Chief Mike Chandler.
Despite the scenario, Chandler believes the current financial crisis won’t meet the worst-case scenario.
“If you’re asking me if I believe if we’re going to close a fire station I would say no, at least for now,” he said.
Battalion Chief Merle Bowman said if a station is closed permanently or on a part-time basis, staff would be dispersed and there would likely be no layoffs. The station across from South Tahoe Middle School near Al Tahoe Boulevard was targeted under the scenario, Bowman said.
“Until the City Council makes a final determination on their priorities in the city, certainly there is that possibility,” Bowman said. “We hope that that’s not the case but the trouble is if there is only so much to to go around, that’s the way it is.”
The station at Al Tahoe Boulevard is between the stations at the “Y” and along Ski Run Boulevard. It’s the station without an ambulance.
The department’s budget is $3.6 million and operates with minimum staffing. More than a year ago, five people handled administrative duties. Chandler said a part-time worker and himself currently handle the duties.
The department is operating with three or even two riders on fire engines, which usually escorts two paramedics in the ambulance.
Three people on the engine is considered the minimum. Bowman said with the size of South Lake Tahoe the number usually works well.
SLTFD employs about 42 people for its three stations. Thirteen people –Efour at each of the three stations plus one battalion chief — are always working, day and night.
The department remains on the ropes, even with last year’s passage of Measure Z, a city initiative which provided funding to public safety.
“It’s frustrating to say we need more money then saying we need to cut,” Bowman said.
City Manager Dave Jinkens emphasized there isn’t a proposal or recommendation to close a fire station. Each department head in areas such as police, finance, planning, redevelopment and others are preparing budgets that take a hit.
South Lake Tahoe is expected to lose about $400,000 in state funding. The amount is less than the anticipated loss of $1 million or more.
“Things can be worse but things can be better,” Jinkens said.
Jinkens is meeting with the city’s department heads to talk funding before he submits a budget to the city council next month. He wants to construct a budget that would soften the anticipated blow of next year’s losses from state funding and higher retiree health costs.
“The state budget is ugly this year and will probably be uglier next year,” Jinkens said.
— E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org
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