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Council sets new hearing on parks, police and fire

Jaymes Butler, municipal vice president for Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522, protests proposed cuts to fire services.

If you thought the last few budget hearings on proposed budget cuts to the city’s parks, police and fire services were heated, just wait until June 7.

At the close of a nearly four-hour budget meeting on proposed cuts to the Sacramento Fire Department Tuesday night, the City Council unanimously decided to discuss the cuts again on June 7.

But the June 7 meeting will be different from previous hearings because the council decided it will discuss all the controversial budget cuts – to the Parks and Recreation, Police and Fire departments – at that time.

Councilman Rob Fong said the cuts should be discussed all at the same time because the city does not have enough money to prevent cuts to those departments.

The council does not have funds to restore money to one of the three departments without cutting money from another of the departments, Fong said.

“When anyone comes and says ‘don’t cut us, just keep us whole,’ please understand what you’re really asking us to do is cut them,” Fong said.

“When the police say don’t cut us, they’re saying ‘cut the fire department’ … because that’s where we are – it’s a zero-sum game. We don’t have enough money,” Fong said.

City leaders are wrestling with a $39 million budget gap for the 2011/2012 fiscal year.

Council members indicated Tuesday night that they will likely approve a federal grant for the Fire Department next month. Several council members said Tuesday night that they support the idea of approving the $5.6 million in federal funds from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant Program.

The department has already been selected to receive the grant and is waiting on the council to approve it.

If the council signs off on the federal grant, the proposed cuts to the Fire Department would be lessened. The department would still face “brownouts” or alternating closures of fire services, but the number of brownouts would be less severe.

The department now closes two fire companies on an alternating schedule. The current budget proposal from Interim City Manager Bill Edgar and Interim Deputy City Manager Betty Masuoka would bump the number of these closures to six.

But the federal grant money would bring the number down to four, according to Fire Chief Ray Jones. The department would still see an increase from two to four, but not from two to six.

Jaymes Butler, municipal vice president of Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522, told the council Tuesday that the cuts would hurt communities.

“Whole communities will be without emergency medical response and fire,” Butler said.

In a press conference before the City Council meeting, firefighters protested proposed cuts to their department.

When talking about the proposed cuts at the press conference, Butler said firefighters would be “laid off.” However, when pressed by reporters if there would be “out-the-door” layoffs, Butler said that 49 positions slated for cuts were not filled and no current workers would actually be laid off.

Earlier Tuesday, Mayor Kevin Johnson commented on the proposed budget cuts. When asked about proposals to save money with cuts to police and fire, Johnson said he’d rather hear from all departments and get information from them before the council makes a decision on what they can or can’t do.

"I’ve said from day one I want to hold the line on public safety if at all possible,” Johnson said. “And that’s police and fire. Certainly parks and being a full-service city are very important."

Video by Kathleen Haley

Staff Reporter Suzanne Hurt contributed to this report. Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. 

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