Catch up: Read previous coverage relating to the city's financial crisis in our San Bernardino section
SAN BERNARDINO -- Two very different proposals for how to cut spending in the Fire Department will be on the table Monday, one of several items on the agenda that has fueled controversy at past meetings.
Backers of each plan say the other would be unsafe, but administrators say major cuts to the department - along with other discussions expected Monday - are needed to help the city get closer to filling a $45.8 million budget gap that was a major reason it filed for bankruptcy Aug. 1.
The City Council approved 30 percent reductions to most departments Sept. 4 based on recommendations from the head of each department.
But Acting Fire Chief Paul Drasil's proposal was unacceptable, largely because it included leaving firefighter positions vacant and browning out three of the least-used fire stations - rotating 48-hour closures, for a total of 10 days a month on average - said Councilman Chas Kelley.
Kelley presented an alternative cuts plan, known to opponents as the union plan because rank-and-file firefighters played a large role in crafting it, that included administrative cuts. Three other council members said they preferred Kelley's plan, making a majority.
Drasil said at the previous meeting that parts of Kelley's plan were "unworkable," but he would need more time to examine it. He said Thursday that he would continue analyzing the plan through the weekend and would present a slightly modified version of his original plan, but he couldn't comment further because he wasn't done and Interim City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller told him to wait until the meeting.
Travis-Miller was also unavailable late last week.
Kelley said he would listen to Drasil, but he said every other department made administrative cuts and kept more front-line services.
"I do have concerns regarding any brownout of stations that would jeopardize one of the jewels of our city, and that's Cal State San Bernardino," Kelley said, noting that the closest fire station to the campus in his ward was one slated for rotating closures and alluding to wildfires that have threatened the school in the past, damaging buildings.
Kelley also pointed to a car fire that damaged several other vehicles earlier this month, saying it spread because firefighters were stretched thin but once a crew arrived the lack of a battalion chief didn't hinder the response.
Council members should listen to Drasil when he says supervisors are needed, said Jim Morris, chief of staff for Mayor Pat Morris.
"If you care about public safety, then listen to the experts," he said Friday. "Will the four council members who know nothing about firefighting finally listen to the professional response, or will they have the hubris to keep substituting their own judgment?"
Those council members have said relying on experts instead of researching for themselves led the city to bankruptcy, while Morris has said the bankruptcy was caused more by following union directions.
The council will also hear an update Monday on Requests For Proposals that could lead to outsourcing the city's refuse department. Workers are planning a protest Monday because they consider the plan unfair and think it will lead to layoffs, said union coordinator George Swift.
Morris said it's too early to say whether layoffs would be involved, with Monday's update only concerning what the city should say as it asks companies to bid on how to make more money from refuse.
The mayor has previously vetoed the decision because he said it was too rushed, but Councilwoman Virginia Marquez prevented a veto of last meeting's decision by joining the vote to request proposals.
"Finally, we're in crisis mode," she said Friday when asked about the change, saying it didn't mean she would support outsourcing. "It really hit me in the face that we need to look at all the options that are available."
The council is also expected to approve an ordinance making it illegal for staff members to borrow from restricted funds without council approval, a practice that Travis-Miller said hid the city's financial problems as they grew.
Reach Ryan via email, find him on Twitter @SBcityNow, or call him at 909-386-3916.