OCEANSIDE — City Manager Peter Weiss did not recommend a brownout of one city ambulance to balance the fire department budget at the Oct. 2 City Council meeting.
Weiss said an ambulance brownout is still his recommendation, but he did not bring it up because City Council did not want to take action on it.
“My memo to the Council and Fire Chief is still out there,” Weiss said. “They didn’t choose to talk about it. They accepted the report and the fire department overtime.”
Weiss was set to make the recommendation at the Sept. 25 meeting, but time constrains did not allow the item to be heard.
By Oct. 2 council did not want to act on the recommendation.
The city ended its 2012-13 fiscal year with a $6.7 million surplus. Expenditures were under budget and onetime funds boosted the budget further.
The fire department was over budget by $496,440 for the fiscal year due to exceeding its overtime budget.
The department has been over budget the last three years.
Weiss said budget surplus coved the fire department shortfall last year, but cannot be counted on for the year ahead.
“We can’t fix last year, but we can fix this year,” Weiss said. “My job is to manage the budget.”
Fire Chief Darryl Hebert said department overtime expenses have remained the same every year since 2009, but the department budget has decreased by $4 million.
To adjust to annual budget cuts the fire department has reduced expenses in administration, equipment and supplies costs.
Fire department services have not been cut so far.
Councilman Jerry Kern said he is not pleased the fire department is over budget and is allowing the department until Nov. 1 to take another look at the budget and come up with a long-term solution.
Kern said Oceanside Fire Association president Dave Overton has questioned how state refunded Office of Emergency Service (OES) overtime hours are represented in the budget report.
Since Sept. 25, Overton has received a line item budget to review.
“They have to get a handle on overtime,” Kern said. “They have an opportunity to figure it out.”
Hebert said the department is set to receive a $300,000 OES reimbursement for its July response to the 165 acre Yosemite wildfire. He added the fire department operates on a rollover budget due to reimbursements. Some quarters may not show a balanced budget.
Herbert added the brownout of an ambulance would have a significant impact on service. Oceanside received a $2.7 million federal grant in September to hire 11 additional firefighters because the department is understaffed.
“The last thing the city needs is a reduction of firefighter paramedics,” Hebert said. “It would be putting us at risk.”
The proposed reduction in service would brownout one of the four city ambulances between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and take two firefighter paramedics off call for 12 hours.
The ambulance brownout would be tried for three months and evaluated during the following quarterly city budget review for cost savings and impacts on service.