After three years of departmental shuffling to balance the city’s budget, the Fire Department could be in the most comfortable shape it’s been in since 2004.
The city continues bouncing back from fiscal year 2004-05, when officials faced a $2.8 million deficit and made operational cuts across the board to balance the budget that year. Among those cost-saving measures was reducing Fire Department staffing on certain days of the year.
In order to have the money to return to full staffing all year, the city partnered with Millbrae last year to share battalion chief services and with Millbrae, Burlingame, Hillsborough and San Mateo for medical and fire training.
The cost had freed up approximately $300,000 the department has since put toward increasing its overtime budget, fire Chief Dan Voreyer said. The study would help determine how much more the city would save should the departments merge.
In the most recent turn of events, the city is considering partnering wholly with another fire agency, possibly the city of Millbrae or the Central County Fire Authority, created in 2004 to combine the Burlingame and Hillsborough fire departments.
“We’re doing the study to explore our alternatives,” Voreyer said. “Part of that is looking into whether merging is something we can do.”
A study into the issue, in which the Millbrae Fire Department and Central County Fire Authority are also participating, comes up for City Council approval tonight.
In addition to examining the feasibility of a merger, the study, to be prepared by Matrix Consulting Group, would look at the configuration of the city’s fire stations to determine whether they are in the most efficient configuration, City Manager Connie Jackson said.
“We think the stations are arranged quite well,” Jackson said. “But we’re looking at any opportunity we can to be more efficient.”
Shared service has been a popular method for cost-saving up and down the Peninsula. In addition to the North and Central County fire authorities, Belmont and San Carlos share a fire department.
Millbrae continues to share police services with Brisbane and had shared a parks and recreation director with Burlingame, a move City Manager Ralph Jaeck said was good management in their dismal fiscal times in 2003.
A fire assessment in effect since 2004 brings in approximately $1.1 million to $1.2 million to Millbrae’s general fund, Jaeck said. Jaeck and Millbrae fire Chief Dennis Haag have said a possible merger with San Bruno was one way to offset costs once that assessment sunsets in 2009.
Combined Peninsula fire agencies
North County Fire Authority: Daly City, Pacifica, Brisbane
Central County Fire Authority: Burlingame, Hillsborough
Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department*: Belmont, San Carlos
* Formerly South County Fire Authority