Board’s letter opposes CDF fire budget cuts |

Board’s letter opposes CDF fire budget cuts

Nevada County supervisors will send a letter opposing a $20 million California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection budget cut proposed by Gov. Gray Davis.

Davis’ proposed 2002-03 budget also gives CDF the authority to seek reimbursement from cities and counties for firefighting services that aren’t covered by its budget.

With over 200,000 acres of land in Nevada County, the cuts could have a devastating financial impact on the county, said Supervisor Sue Horne Tuesday.

Fighting potentially catastrophic wildland fires, such as the 49er Fire of 1989, will take the combined efforts of state, federal and local fire agencies to protect lives and property, according to the supervisors’ letter.

“Without a firm commitment of state fire protection resources to aid in this effort, our ability to protect Nevada County will be severely degraded,” the letter stated.

The supervisors urged Davis to fulfill his commitment to public safety and emergency services by not passing the state deficit – currently an estimated $17.5 billion – onto local governments.

Davis’ proposal fails to recognize that local governments and firefighting agencies also assist CDF in fighting fires on state lands, Horne said.

She said the state Assembly budget subcommittee voted April 3 not to move forward with the CDF reimbursement authority. Instead, it told state fire officials to go back and find other areas to cut $20 million.

Davis’ proposal was tabled when Republicans started asking questions, said Brett Michelin, spokesman for Assemblyman Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley.

CDF wants to charge local firefighting agencies for assistance beyond the state’s area of responsibility, Michelin said, but locals are often first to respond to fires on state lands.

“So what’s to stop locals from charging CDF?” he asked.

CDF was told by the budget subcommittee to work with local stakeholders on a plan that works for everyone, said CDF Deputy Director Louis Blumberg.

Blumberg said that at this point he doesn’t know if or how much the CDF budget will be cut, but that the final decision should be made in June.

“We look at fire protection as a statewide system and allocate funds to provide the best level of protection to the entire state, and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” he said.

In other business, Nevada County Airport Manager Gary Petersen was called on the carpet and subsequently vindicated of accusations he was working for the county’s open-space planning program, Natural Heritage 2020, on county time.

The matter surfaced March 19, when former airport commissioner Larry Christie addressed the board during the public comment period.

Christie said Petersen’s salary comes out of the airport enterprise fund – which is earmarked for operations – but many of his activities are not related to the airport.

“The word ‘misappropriation’ comes to mind,” Christie said.

In order to keep the airport moving in the right direction, Petersen said it’s important that he work in “multiple levels outside the airport” and collaborate with other county department heads.

“Are you saying you weren’t spending time on non-airport business?” asked Supervisor Bruce Conklin.

“I do believe everything does link back to the airport,” Petersen responded.

Horne commended Petersen for moving the airport forward.

“However, I think to say that everything you do is tied to the airport is too broad,” she said. “For instance, facilitating NH 2020 events.”

About a year ago, Petersen – a trained meeting facilitator – said he was asked to volunteer to facilitate an NH 2020 meeting.

He said the meeting was at night – on his time and not the county’s time.

“If we try to pigeonhole department heads into working in just one department and not sharing their expertise … we would be remiss,” said Supervisor Peter Van Zant.

“I think it’s appropriate to clarify how Gary’s time is spent on matters other than the airport,” Horne said.

But since Petersen volunteered his own time to facilitate the meeting, “that’s appropriate too,” she added.

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