Visalia Firefighters Fight Back

June 10, 2009 7:42:00 PM PDT
The budget crunch is getting worse in Visalia ... and now, city leaders are looking at pay cuts and furloughs for firefighters. Dozens of Visalia firefighters say they'll be at City Hall Monday night when the council discusses the budget. City officials want employees to give up a 4% raise they're expecting to get at the end of the month. Firefighters say with or without the raise, the city is threatening to impose furloughs which would dramatically reduce emergency response times.

Holding signs and wearing red, dozens of men and women representing the Visalia Fire Department spoke adamantly against the city's request to give up a 4% raise.

Firefighter Manuel Oseguera said, "The city then advised us that conceding a 4% pay raise would not stop furloughs and or layoffs."

Firefighter Allen Wilkinson said, "They don't need to jeopardize public safety in order to continue capital projects that are going on in the city."

The Visalia Firefighters Association says furloughs would mean the fire stations at Lovers Lane and the new station in Northwest Visalia ... would each shut down 68 times overnight during the year, dramatically increasing response times. Visalia Business Manager Jeff Pierce supports the firefighters in light of a recent scary situation.

"Less than a week ago I walked in the kitchen 5am my wife was unconscious I grabbed the phone called 9-1-1 and the fire truck arrived don't know how fast I couldn't count the time ... my wife's alive and I'm here to say look elsewhere," said Pierce.

City Manager Steve Salomon insists if employees gave up their 4% raise, there would be no furloughs or layoffs in the 2009-10 budget. The raises amount to about one million dollars. The city is grappling with an estimated $6-million dollar deficit with public safety making up 75% of the city's budget.

"The city can't print money in the end and we can't change the economy," said Salomon.

Salomon says the city is dipping into reserves and has frozen capital projects. Firefighters will be out canvassing neighborhoods to spread their message Wednesday night and on Saturday.

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