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South Lake firefighters brace for cuts

William Ferchland, Appeal News Service

South Lake Tahoe firefighters are imagining what it would be like without one of their stations.

Under a directive from the city manager, the department is preparing scenarios in case its $3.6 million budget is cut 5 or 10 percent.

Officials said the department’s finances are already at the “bare bones,” and any cuts would be significant.

“I guess the best thing I can say i, when I was asked to prepare a budget of a 5 percent or 10 percent decrease, it went somewhere nobody wants to see,” said Fire Chief Mike Chandler.

Chandler doubts the current financial crisis will meet the worst-case scenario.

“If you’re asking me if I believe if we’re going to close a fire station, I would say no, at least for now,” he said.

Battalion Chief Merle Bowman said that if a station is closed permanently or open on a part-time basis, staff would be dispersed and there would likely be no layoffs. The station across from South Tahoe Middle School near Al Tahoe Boulevard was targeted under the scenario, Bowman said.

“Until the City Council makes a final determination of their priorities in the city, certainly there is that possibility,” he said. “We hope that that’s not the case, but the trouble is, if there is only so much to to go around, that’s the way it is.”

SLTFD employs about 42 people for its three stations. Thirteen –Efour at each of the three stations plus a battalion chief — work day and night.

The department remains on the ropes, even with last year’s passage of Measure Z, a city initiative that provided funding for public safety.

“It’s frustrating to say we need more money, then saying we need to cut,” Bowman said.

City Manager Dave Jinkens emphasized there isn’t a proposal or recommendation to close a fire station. Each department head in areas such as police, finance, planning, redevelopment and others are preparing budgets that take a hit.

South Lake Tahoe is expected to lose about $400,000 in state funding.

“Things can be worse, but things can be better,” Jinkens said.

He is meeting with the city’s department heads to discuss funding before he submits a budget to the city council next month. He wants to construct a budget to soften the anticipated blow of next year’s losses from state funding and higher retiree health costs.

“The state budget is ugly this year and will probably be uglier next year,” Jinkens said.