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Alameda’s Budget Constraints Make Emergency Safety Standards Questionable

By Erica Madison

A city council meeting on Monday, Aug. 3, 2009 revealed a two-year decrease in budget, may mean 77,000 citizens of Alameda will have to put a price on safety.

A report given by City Manager Anne Marie Gallant revealed that over the last two years the budget for Alameda city has been reduced by $22.8 million dollars. Some of this budget cut has to do with money from takes and borrowing by the State of California. The money went towards the $23 billion dollar deficit California faces. Unfortunately, while this may help the State, it has lead Alameda to a 13 percent decrease in city wide spending power.

“Part of the problem is the state of California has taken and borrowed money they have no intention of repaying,” said Ms. Gallant.

Unfortunately she doesn’t predict the future to be much brighter. The forecast for the 2010-2012 budget, is just as bleak. The budget will fluctuate, as it deals with inflation and a rising gas tax. The State will also continue to borrow and take money, which will result in the loss of more services, programs, and projects.

On of the services already being cut by the budget decrease, is Alameda’s fire stations. A process known as Brown Outs are forcing firehouses to temporarily close stations 40-50 percent of the time. This situation is coupled with the Fire Chief’s decision to reduce firefighter personnel by three. According to firefighter president Domenick Weaver, the mandatory minimum firefighter staffing, has always been twenty-seven. Currently the firehouses are forced to work with only a weekly staffing of only twenty four.

An attempt to rectify this situation, was presented at the city council meeting. The Fire and Emergency Medical Services Minimum Protection initiative, was put before the Council members. The initiative requests sworn fire personnel staff be increased by 18.5 percent. This would require the additional hiring of 17 sworn fire personnel. Unfortunately, in order to carry out this request, the initiative requires a $4 million dollar budget.

For City Council members Lena Tan and Frank Matterese, the issue needed to be looked at immediately.

“I think this is an urgent matter,” said Council Member Frank Matarrese.

Unfortunately they were the only members pushing to expedite a decision.

“I don’t understand why this is an urgent matter.” said Mayor Beverly Johnson.

This opposition to the initiative may stem from the Operational Assessment report, conducted by the International City and Council Management Association (ICMA) on June 1, 2009. According to the report, the minimum sworn fire personnel staffing is 21, but the firehouses currently are already over mandatory minimum by three. This means firehouses are already exceeding the mandatory minimum by 7 percent.

However,  according to a press release from Alameda firehouses’ President Domenick Weaver (on www.SaveAlamedaFirehouses.com), the temporary closing of firehouses through the Brown Out program and the reduction of staff, has lead to an increased delay in response time, for fire personnel to handle an emergency.

Despite this, Council members stated they needed more time to go over the facts.

“This is a really difficult time. I’m reluctant to go out to our community with a measure for taxes to fund additional fire staffing levels,” said Mayor Beverly Johnson.

3 comments to Alameda’s Budget Constraints Make Emergency Safety Standards Questionable

  • Rich McKone

    Cities and counties wouldn’t complain if they understood the difficult choices our lawmakers are faced with. Of course lawmakers know they could save billions by simply increasing correctional contract beds from the current 3% to 10% of capacity, saving about $220 million in annual prison operating costs and $2.2 billion in prison bed construction costs. If they took that action, they could probably avoid taking money from education and the cities and counties. But that would offend the very important correctional employee unions. Really not much of a choice when you think about it.

  • Our official editorial stance is that the money is taxpayer money – not “county” money or “city” money or “state” money – it’s ours, taxpayer money! We reject the notion that the local municipality or county has any specific claims to it.

    Further, Alameda specifically has mis-managed their finances, slowly wearing down close to $20 million in reserves to next to nothing. Had they not done that, the City wouldn’t feel any pain from the State’s borrowing. The City of Citrus Heights, California, just outside of Sacramento, has a $35 million surplus – State borrowing isn’t going to bother Citrus Heights one bit.

  • barb

    Gosh, I agree with both of you.

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