With tax revenue weighed down by the pandemic while the need for community resources is increasing, the Redwood City Council will be asked to approve an updated fiscal year 2020-21 budget reflecting cuts and freezes to various services — including the fire and police department. 

Come Monday, the council will be asked to adopt a revised Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget proposing $7.7 million worth of reductions, including a $6.3 million reduction to the General Fund. The proposed “transitional” budget lays out a recovery plan spanning the next five years and, if not approved, the city could experience future budget deficits of $7 million to $13 million. 

“This is far beyond the recessions experienced in our lifetime. … We now know too, from all the different studies, that this economic recession will likely last about five years. It’s not going to be a short-term thing. It’s going to be a while until we recover,” said Melissa Stevenson Diaz, the city manager of Redwood City. 

To balance the budget, a one-time contribution of $3 million from reserves was pulled to match the city’s $151 million revenue with its $154 million in expenditures. The city is required to maintain a reserves of 15% of the following year’s projected revenue and currently has reserves of 21% or $32 million. 

A majority of proposed General Fund budget savings come from a $4.9 million reduction to the police and fire departments. The budget proposes nine positions within the police department remain vacant as well as a fire training captain position within the fire department. 

Additional reductions to the fire department would include the temporary closure of Engine 9, one of the two vehicles stationed at the downtown firehouse. All calls to Engine 9 would either be transferred to Truck 9, a ladder vehicle without water carrying capabilities, or to a neighboring station. A 5.6% reduction is being proposed to the fire department’s total budget. 

‘Firefighters are frustrated’

Michael Elhihi, a Redwood City firefighter and executive board member with the Redwood City Firefighters Association, said the loss of the engine could spell danger for residents and cuts to the department has made firefighters feel the city “turned a back” to the force. 

“Firefighters are frustrated. They come to work tired and hurt and not enough people see what we do on calls. … We love doing the job that we do and we don’t need anyone to do more than say ‘we recognize the work you do,’ but this feels very personal,” said Elhihi, noting the fire department is the only agency experiencing cuts to service, while other agencies are instituting hiring freezes. 

While Elhihi said losing Engine 9 could cause major disruptions in service, leaving endangered residents waiting for stations or other cities to deploy assistance, Stevenson Diaz said she and Fire Chief Dave Pucci assessed reductions in all stations and determined temporarily eliminating the engine would be most manageable. 

“Our current average response time is 5:38 minutes, which is excellent. Average response time in District 9 will increase by 6 seconds overall with the brownout of Engine 9. For most other districts, there is no statistically significant increase in response time; for district 11 and 10 the increase is less than 6 seconds,” Stevenson Diaz said in an email. 

Station 9 is the only station with both a truck and engine. Stevenson Diaz and fire officials believe Truck 9 is capable of managing calls to the station until another solution is developed. She noted a majority of calls made to Engine 9 are medical related and within Truck 9’s capacity.

Reimagining how services provided

While cuts to the departments are not ideal, Stevenson Diaz said this time period will require the city to reimagine how services are provided to the community, a request that’s been made by community members for months following civil unrest over the police killings of Black Americans. She noted $200,000 has been set aside to contribute to a pilot program led by the county which will contract mental health clinicians on emergency calls alongside police officers. 

“We have some work to do to figure out how we deliver services and what services we need to be developing for a long-term recovery,” said Stevenson Diaz. 

The city’s top priority, Stevenson Diaz said, is to ensure all employees are retained and community members continue to receive the services they need, particularly during the pandemic. She noted residents will likely not feel the budget cuts within services because the burden is largely placed on city staff. 

“I appreciate the work of staff who’ve worked to keep the city on a good path forward. I’m really just proud we’ve been able to avoid layoffs and city staff is doing tremendous work,” said Stevenson Diaz, who noted that other departments will bear the burden of budget cuts if the council opts to not approve the proposed reductions. 

The City Council will meet remotely via Zoom at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, and will be streamed live at redwoodcity.org and on Comcast Channel 27 and AT&T U-verse Channel 99. Remote public comments will be received by telephone during the meeting, prior to the close of public comment on an item. *67 (669) 900-6833, Meeting ID: 999 2068 0907.

sierra@smdailyjournal.com 

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106

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(3) comments

aball52

Rereading the journal on paper I was just as incensed at any suggestion cutting station 9 services. Not only are you putting more pressure oon your RC department along with San Carlos and all other cities in your mutual aid network doubling up on their already full plate of city and wildfire state coverage you are adding the burden of one less engine to cover for it's loss. The need for a new city managern and Chief seems feasible to me as your vote of non confidence in this Chief surely will be considered as well as the City manager. Vote them out citizens . remove them now. .we don't need any more naysayers as ti confidence in our firefighters throwing more work on your surrounding ressponders The You go I go concept need not apply to these two administrators. I seriously doubt that Chief Maupin would in any way condone this foolishness. The rest of the county is pulling for you as you have been placed in harm's way as well as more burdens to carry . I read today don't cry because it happened be joyful it happened. Nyou know the true colors of support that isn't there in RC. i woulld gather the rest of the county is chering you on as I am cheering you on. Well done RCFD your letters are awesome and I thank you so much....... Your fellow partner in crime..and matters of the heart..Jpb well done..

aball52

Hello Association Firefighters! I have to take a breath as any cuts whether engines stations to me is totally unfathomable and needs no consideration at all. This noble profession seems to be receiving the cuts for the whole town not an option in my opinion. My option would be pay raises not cut backs. We are not living in Prop 13 climates now these service heroes are tne Backbones Saviors of our state. Add more, pay more not cut more Consolidated so close a station? San Carlos closing one? not an option I would assume just RC. his department will have future hires going elsewhwere because of this so called decision. Michelle Obama says it so well. "Get your ballot in order and run to vote out the ones considering this non option not even close to any such consideration Impossible cut throat choice. Surely RC has another option as big as it is..My husband is a 28 year Hillsborough retired Captain..We dirt bike with a lot of you Cliff? Steve Martin, Stan Maupin from all his many years FC retired RC now Hello and best of luck to all of you...You deserve the best. I'm embarassed for all of you. I don't like to should this case should never have even been mentioned Shame on all the administrators of this town.

smclcjulie

A little background on the recent budget cuts proposed for Redwood City Fire Department.

 

The City manager has met recently with the association President followed by a Zoom conference with the entire executive board on or around the 13 of October. She met with the entire fire department yesterday(10/22) via both in person at Sta. 9 and Zoom. The attendance is estimated at 70 for both formats combined. She finally delivered the news that our portion of the 7.7 million dollar cut to the city was 2.6 million and some change, which roughly equates to a year of an engine closure. We are frustrated and disappointed that we were notified of projected cut only days prior to a scheduled council meeting on 10/26/20 without opportunity for public input.

 

Public input with regard to this budget cut in particular we feel is imperative due to the fact that Measure RR was voted on and passed in the November 2018 election. The measure was sold to the public as a protection for public safety as a follow up to a survey that was conducted indicating that public safety was the most important value to the city services. The city asked us to support the measure which we did with funding and walking precincts. Our bargaining group was the only one in the entire city to support the measure. The measure was a ½ cent sales tax increase to protect public safety.

 

Following the passing of Measure RR, our Fire Department was awarded the money for three firefighter positions ($800,000.00 roughly). Our Fire Chief at the time was able to convince the membership that using those funds towards administration would promote growth for the entire organization which we had felt was long overdue. He then promoted a Deputy Fire Chief for a total of 2 and a Training Captain. While never written to agreement there was a mutual understanding that in the event there was ever a future budget cut that those would be the first to go.

 

Fast forward to now and we are faced with a revised  (yesterday) 2.05 million dollar cut to the fire department. The budget cut is certain to include the closure of our downtown engine (E9) with the alternative plan of having a ladder truck (Truck 9) respond in its place. The engine is historically the busiest engine in San Mateo County and runs nearly 3000 calls for service a year. We have seen continual increases in fires (89 percent over the past 5 years) in addition to an overall increase in calls. This leaves us with an ever expanding downtown district with no water or apparatus with pumping capabilities.

 

The last example of our partnership with the city was the merger and consolidated services with the city of San Carlos, where we expanded our truck and Battalion Chief service area to included San Carlos and Woodside for the truck without adding staffing. With the expanded service area the reliability of the truck will definitely be compromised in addition to the downtown district having to rely on nearby districts and agencies to respond in. This mutual aid dependence will have a domino effect and neighboring communities are also at risk for increased response times.

 

We have always been a customer service and community pride based organization. We have always played ball, so to say, with our administration and city in the spirit of providing the best possible service to our community. At this time we are asking our community to come forward and make sure Redwood City understands the level of service they expect, deserve and pay for.

 

Respectfully,

 

Paul Sherwood

Vice President-Redwood City Firefighters Association

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