Riverside County’s own fire services would cost $58.6M

Riverside County’s own fire services would cost $58.6M

28 November 2010

published by www.mydesert.com

USA —  Riverside County would face $46.6 million in increased operational costs if it broke from the state’s fire services and created its own department, a new study contends.

The analysis, by county staff, found most of the increased costs stemmed from salaries, benefits and pension liabilities.

Riverside County also would see nearly $12 million in one-time costs for facility replacement.

County officials have praised the current fire services. But they requested the cost analysis earlier this year while eyeing new ways to trim costs in all of their departments.

The study will be presented during Tuesday’s county supervisor meeting for a “receive and file” vote.

After getting “sticker shock,” Supervisor Marion Ashley said he doesn’t expect the county will be pursuing its own fire department anytime soon.

“It just doesn’t look like a prudent thing to do right now,” Ashley told The Desert Sun.

“The system we have now is functioning very well. I don’t see any reason to change forces right now.”

Riverside County’s contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection dates back to 1921, when the state agency was used for wild land fire protection.

The current integrated system, where Cal Fire manages the county services, started in 1946. Those crews now protect the unincorporated areas, 19 contract cities and one community services district.

If Riverside County created a separate fire department and all the cities kept their partnerships, the study notes that the county could use contract revenue to offset some of the increased costs.

Riverside County last looked at the fire department structure in 2005. That study found the “best delivery option” was staying with Cal Fire, according to the report going to supervisors Tuesday.

Riverside County has seen revenues decline in the economic downturn, prompting supervisors to analyze a wide range of costs.

They now are trying to close a $46.7 million budget gap across the board in this fiscal year, including an estimated $6 million shortfall in the fire department’s budget.

It has prompted supervisors to consider closing at least three of the 45 fire stations in the unincorporated areas.

County leaders are also moving forward with a plan to regulate volunteer fire companies and establish a reserve volunteer firefighter program.

Ashley said he was glad the study was done as it reinforced the value of the state-county contract.

“We have a terrific system at a great price,” he said.

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