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Concern grows over public safety staffing

Dave Frank
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer

Carson City fire and sheriff’s department officials said the failure of their ballot question won’t stop them from working to keep the city safe, but they are growing more concerned about the consequences of going without the staff they say they need.

About 70 percent of Carson City voters rejected a ballot question seeking to raise property taxes 12.6 cents for $100 of assessed value to fund seasonal wildland firefighters, a six-person ambulance team, a gang unit, four jail deputies and three dispatchers.

The plan, which would have cost $2 million a year, was about a third of what the departments originally asked for and what a consultant in 2000 and a citizens committee this year also recommended. City supervisors recommended cutting the request to cover only the most critical needs for keeping the city safe.

Without the money from the ballot question, the city jail’s 28 workers are 10 fewer than what the citizens committee recommended. The committee also found that over the last four years, problems at the jail have gone up 50 percent.

Sgt. Ken Steel said going without the additional deputies will make it more difficult to manage the jail.

“It’s all we can do to keep our heads above water,” he said.

The jail has 175 to 210 inmates on any given day, but, Steel said, it becomes almost “unmanageable” with more than 150 inmates, compromising safety for the two deputies on a shift.

“It’s not a safe situation,” he said.

City supervisors have suggested the city look at building a new jail. Sheriff Kenny Furlong said he’s had to make changes to deal with the failure of the ballot question.

Two of the 41 deputies had to be pulled off their patrols, he said, to focus on gang and drug problems in the city.

Crime overall has fallen during the last 10 years, but, according to the citizens committee, the city has to deal with a relatively new gang problem with the fewest police per capita in the region.

Furlong said he’s concerned this will slow down response time to calls, especially with an understaffed dispatch call center.

Response time to emergency calls for the fire department has already risen more than 25 percent over the last five years, according to the citizens committee.

Fire Chief Stacey Giomi said the department is so busy it had to call on neighboring counties 250 times last year to cover calls in Carson City.

“That’s 250 times no fire trucks or ambulances were available for an emergency,” he said.

Longer response times increase the chances a fire will grow out of control or a medical emergency will result in death, he said.

“I don’t know that I have anymore tricks up my management sleeve to squeeze any more use out of the resources we have,” he said.

The fire department will continue to get to emergencies as fast as possible, but without more staff, delays will grow, Battalion Chief Dan Shirey said.

The department might not be able to rely on other agencies for emergencies as calls increase.

“You can only do that so long, and eventually something is going to happen,” he said.

– Contact reporter Dave Frank at dfrank@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.

250

times during 2007 neighboring counties had to cover fire department calls in Carson City.

28

jail workers, 10 fewer bodies than what the citizens committee recommended.

2

of the city’s 41 sheriff’s deputies were pulled off the street to focus on gang and drug activity.

25

percent ” the amount response time has increased for the fire department to respond to emergency calls.