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San Bernardino slashes $2.9 million from Fire Department budget

San Bernardino slashes Fire Department budget
San Bernardino officials voted to slash $2.9 million from the Fire Department this week, approving a major piece of an austerity budget aimed at rescuing the Inland Empire city from bankruptcy.

City Council members voted 4-1 to eliminate 13 vacant positions and reduce engine crews to three from four people. The plan, proposed by Acting Fire Chief Paul Drasil, will keep all fire stations open and avoid any layoffs or demotions.

Those cuts came after the council voted in September to eliminate more than 200 positions across city departments. The reductions were aimed at closing a $45.8-million deficit in the $259-million budget, a shortfall that prompted the city to file for bankruptcy protection Aug. 1.

But Gwendolyn Waters, acting assistant city manager, said Tuesday the combined reductions would not balance the budget for this fiscal year. She could not specify how large the shortfall remains, saying the numbers are “a moving target.”

“This takes a big chunk out of the deficit,” she said of the cuts approved so far, “but it doesn’t achieve a balanced budget. We need to let the dust settle and see what else can be adjusted.”

She said the city’s financial crisis has been building over several years, as rising gas prices, pension contributions and other costs were not adequately offset by spending cuts or increased revenue.

However, officials said there would be no immediate elimination of services to the city’s 210,000 residents. 

San Bernardino became the third California city this year to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, following Stockton in the Central Valley and Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra Nevada.


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Photo: The San Bernardino City Council declares a fiscal emergency in July. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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