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NCFPD budget continues to shrink; labor contracts loom

The North County Fire Protection District (NCFPD) board of directors was presented with a mid-year budget review on Jan. 26 and told that this year’s budget may experience tougher times.

When NCFPD chief Bill Metcalf presented status of the budget to the board at the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1, 2009, he had anticipated there would be a 4 percent reduction needed, but as the year has progressed, Metcalf said the outcome has been “as bad as it was anticipated, maybe worse.”

“When the fiscal year started, we realized a revenue cut like we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Metcalf. “The fire district may be experiencing a reduction that is 2 or 3 percent worse than [what was originally forecast], meaning the district will have a $500,000 shortfall until June 30. We are basically planning for the worst.”

For the past six months, the fire district has “continued to ratchet down,” said Metcalf, and has made cutbacks in administration to allow NCFPD to continue to offer the highest quality services possible while still saving money.

“The board has done a great job in keeping expenses down,” said Buchanan. “Where we would have normally spent 50 percent of our budget, they have only spent 40 percent.”

According to Metcalf, it is “little things” that have helped the district save money.

“The administration has done little things, like turning off lights when no one is in the room,” said Metcalf.

The NCFPD board of directors also elected to not fill four administrative positions that were recently vacated.

“We have tried to make all the cuts behind the scenes,” said Metcalf. “I like to think the fire district is like the plate-spinning circus act. We have the same number of plates spinning, but only one-third of the people spinning plates. We have people doing double or triple duty. This will work for a short period, but we may pay the price of burning people out.”

To allow the fire district some more fluidity, Metcalf said the district has considered deferring deposits into the reserve account, which is money that is set aside for future fire engines and stations.

“We have the money budgeted to go into that account, but we may postpone the transaction as a short-term solution,” said Metcalf. “We have also dramatically reduced the amount of training that took place when firefighters were off-duty and would have required overtime. We are also reviewing all the contracts we have for medical supplies to make sure we have gotten the best deal we possibly can.”

Because last summer’s fire season was not severe, the budget did not go “out of control,” said Metcalf.

In the midst of deliberating over how to further address the NCFPD budget’s shortcomings, Metcalf said the board of directors must also decide whether or not to extend contract renewals to the three labor unions in the district, as their contracts are set to expire June 30.

Metcalf said it is “too early” in the negotiation process to see if the board will offer the three unions – which represent the firefighters, non-safety personnel, and administration – a contract renewal, or if the board will begin negotiations on contract changes.

“I don’t think that the board will take too long in deciding, so they’ve got to get busy,” said Metcalf. “The decision shouldn’t take longer than a month.”

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