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Proposed budget cutbacks raise safety fears

OCEANSIDE — As Oceanside adjusts to state budget cuts and makes its second round of slashing funds from city departments, many fear the cuts have gone too deep into public safety budgets.
The police and fire departments have once again been asked to come up with recommended department cuts of approximately $1 million after $7 million was cut from the city budget in June.
Police cuts are not expected to have an impact on emergency services, but fire cuts are likely to directly affect response times.
Proposed police cuts will eliminate 12 nonsworn officers and unfund four sworn officers. The cuts may delay the processing of police reports, but are not anticipated to effect emergency services. “It won’t impact response times on emergency calls,” Shawn Murray, president of Oceanside police management association, said.
Fire cuts will have an effect on emergency services. “It absolutely will have a direct impact on customer service,” Fire Chief Terry Garrison said. “The closing of an ambulance will definitely delay critical transportation of a patient to the hospital.”
Chief Garrison gave his recommendations to cut nonsworn positions, overtime pay and “brown out,” or not constantly staff, one ambulance. Garrison followed his recommendation with the statement that he does not think the cuts are a good idea.
“It’s a bad idea to reduce services in the city,” Garrison said. “We conducted a safety survey and found we are two fire stations short if calls continue to increase. Calls have increased.”
If council decides to take an ambulance out of service to balance the budget, service closure may rotate every two months between the four ambulances in the fleet, Garrison said. It will also mean there will be two less firefighter/paramedics on duty.
“All of our ambulances are equally busy,” Garrison said. “Ambulances make eight to nine calls a shift. The other three ambulances will have to pick up those eight to nine calls. That will result in a delayed response.”
The reduction in ambulance service will also affect the safety of Vista and Carlsbad, which have drop boundary agreements with Oceanside in which the closet ambulance responds regardless of city boundaries.
“I voted no on the first two budget hearings,” Mayor Jim Wood said. “They cut an awful lot of public safety officers.”
“The cuts in fire are unbelievable,” Wood said. “It concerns me about response times. Public safety is No. 1.”
An alternative recommendation from Garrison is to look at the city budget as a whole and determine where cuts can be made without affecting public safety. “We have to come up with funds somewhere else in the city that doesn’t affect people’s lives,” Garrison said.
Some council members see the cuts to public safety as necessary. “Nobody wants to make them, but we’re forced to because we don’t have the money,” Councilman Jerry Kern said.
“Percentage-wise, it was a 2.5 percent in budget reduction (for police and fire),” Kern said. “The budget can’t balance without cutting police and fire, without closing every park and every library. We need to cut a little bit to preserve libraries and other services.”
Plans for a $680,000 Oceanside Boulevard landscaping project are recommended to be put on hold so ambulance services can continue to be provided.
Kern opposes delaying the landscaping project that has been on hold since 2002 and will be paid for by one-time capital funds.
“If we don’t go forward we don’t have any capital projects in place,” Kern said. “Let’s make them happen now. When times turn around we have to be ready to go.”
Garrison said the one-time funds of $680,000 can provide ambulance services for a year and a half.
“I don’t think firefighters are special,” Garrison said. “I think the way we deliver our services is special. It’s not about pensions or salaries its about the customers.”
Council will vote on city budget cuts Oct. 21.

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