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|Last Updated: Monday, November 05, 2012|
New California Budget Cuts 27 Million From CAL Fire
When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger finally signed the state's hotly-contested budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year last month his fire-fighting agency suffered a severe blow.
Millions of dollars were suddenly removed from the new operating budget for Cal Fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. And the final year of a three-year contract for use of a valuable aerial firefighting tool was canceled.
Janet Upton, Cal Fire's Deputy Director for Communications, tells FDNNTV $17 million was cut from the department's Vehicle Replacement Fund which means "no new fire engines or command vehicles."
$3 million for the agency's Resource Management Program was deleted as well. That money was to have been used for the protection of natural resources on private property. Upton says, "It was a big hit to that program."
While the cuts from Cal Fire's budget total $27 million dollars Upton says, "There will be no fire fighting personnel cutbacks and all Cal Fire stations will remain open."
According to Upton, "The Governor has been very protective of our fire protection budget."
Upton says through an Executive Order. signed in early May, Gov. Schwarzenegger has required Cal Fire Director Del Walters to staff all Cal Fire engines with a four person crew.
For some, the biggest budget-cutting surprise was the cancellation of the final year of a three-year "exclusive use" deal for a DC-10 fire retardant bomber even though the state is in the midst of its fire season.
Upton says a contract clause allows Cal Fire to cancel should the state find itself in the midst of a "budget crisis." That cut alone, she says, would save the state another $7 million.
But Rick Hatton, Managing Partner of 10 Tanker Air Carrier at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, tells FDNNTV the contract cancellation for the use of his aircraft "doesn't make sense."
Hatton says while he understands the pitfalls of California's budget crisis, "We were surprised as were the professionals at Cal Fire. To cut off immediate access to a proven aerial firefighting resource, ten times more efficient than California's other firefighting planes, is the wrong way to go."
"They'd like to say they're saving $7 million. I don't think they ever will."
According to Hatton, "If my DC-10 and another I have on standby were to be available to Cal Fire under a new on-call only arraignment the state will wind up paying much more to use them in the long run."
Hatton feels he's now free to negotiate another exclusive use contract with a different major fire agency if needed, "possibly out of state."
Then there's the domino effect of California's budget crisis.
Hatton says he hasn't been paid by Cal Fire, except a few dollars, for his successful DC-10 fire retardant drops on a big wildland fire in Santa Barbara last May. And there's been no money from Sacramento for the used portion of this year's contract, from June 15th to the cancellation date of July 28th.
Cal Fire's contract cancellation, according to Hatton, has left him "holding the bag." "We haven't even received any IOUs. That forces us to use credit lines."
Author:Bill Lorin - FDNNTV.com
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