Oceanside residents will see no reduction in ambulance service—at least for now.
The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to pay about $150,000 in extra overtime pay to firefighters rather than take one of four municipal ambulances out of service from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to cover the costs.
Those were the options offered as the council discussed its quarterly budget report.
Fire Chief Daryl Hebert said the excess overtime was accrued as current staff had to take the place of unexpected absences of firefighters or injuries to them.
Hebert said sometimes overtime also is made necessary when the state calls on local firefighters to help out at wildfires in other locations, but that expense will be reimbursed, albeit not rapidly.
Paying overtime has proven to be cheaper than hiring another full-time employee, he said.
Councilmen Jack Feller, Gary Felien and Jerry Kern told Hebert to find ways both to control the expense and to budget his needs more carefully.
The other two members of the deeply divided council—Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez—vigorously defended the firefighters with Sanchez saying to shut down an ambulance would be to play with people's lives.
More than a half-dozen firefighters were in the audience to support Hebert, and four spoke.
Kern said he was particularly happy to hear the last speaker, Firefighter Jose McNally, offer to work with the administration to bring down costs.
"We have to protect the citizens, but we also have to protect what the citizens have to pay," Kern said. "I do not want to be having the same discussion next year [about overtime overages]."
In that case, he said, he would be looking at the option of shutting down an ambulance.
Kern and Feller once considered outsourcing the city's Fire Department.
During the budget report, Teri Ferro, city finance director, gave the council the good news that it has a surplus of $2.2 million. The total General Fund budget is $117.4 million.
Ferro described how much each department has spent of its allotment.
The focus then turned to two individual budgets which are overspent - the Fire Department and the golf courses, Oceanside Municipal and City Center.
Doug Eddow, city property manager, said golf revenues are down everywhere.
Feller, an avid golfer, said the situation "fairly breaks my heart," but he does not want to subsidize the courses.
However, the council went ahead and approved the extra expenditure for now.
Coincidentally, the sum at stake in the longest discussion of the six-hour council meeting was nearly the same—about $150,000—as that involving the firefighters' over-expenditure, and this time, the vote was the council's usual 3-2 split with Wood and Sanchez on the losing end.
The entire council was happy to spend almost $1.2 million to update the city's water, sewer and recycled-water master plans.
But Wood and Sanchez did not want to pay $148,655 for a special survey of the need as it pertained to the Morro Hills area in northeastern Oceanside where much of the land remains in agriculture.
Wood and Sanchez said the owners who want to develop their land should pay for the study, not the taxpayers of Oceanside.
But the others said the survey will learn things of benefit to all.
The land now is zoned for lots of a minimum two and a half acres. Most of it now uses septic tanks.
What some owners of land currently in agricultural use want to know is how much development could be accomplished before the septic tanks would have to be replaced with a city sewer system.
Speaking in favor of the study were growers Mike Mellano and Neil Nagata.
Opposed were members of he South Morro Hills Association, who said the landowners should pay for their own study and there's no need for 1,000 new homes.
"It's unfair and immoral to deny part of the city access to city services," Nagata said.
"The city has a moral obligation" to conduct the sewer study, Mellano said, adding that his family plans, however, to continue farming as long as it can.
On the other hand, "we do not need more homes," opponent Suzann Demmon said, and Chris Wilson called it a waste of public funds to spend the money when residents "do not want their area developed."
Planning Commissioner Dennis Martinek reminded the council hat "smart growth" plans for the county call for new development to occur along transportation corridors and not in isolated, rural areas.
"This is so unfair, absolutely so unfair," Sanchez said, and Wood added that an attempt was being made to "pull the wool over our eyes."
"I feel this council supports outside developervs more than our own citizens," he said.
Felien countered that he believes the study will ascertain the "full potential" of the land and said he believes Wood and Sanchez present "a demagoguery against growth."
In other business, the council clashed again over the appointments of council members to municipal and regional bodies and refused to accept Sanchez as deputy mayor.
Traditionally, the mayor has made most appointments, with the concurrence of the council, but his three opponents have removed Wood from his seat on the San Diego Association of Governments.
An ordinance taking the appointing power from the mayor and giving it to the council is to become effective next month.
The council majority says Wood does not fight hard enough to get money for Oceanside when he attends regional bodies. Specifically, they favor funds for the extension of Melrose Drive and an interchange at Rancho del Oro Drive and state Route 78, and he does not.
So on Wednesday, the council delayed action on naming appointments to the boards of the San Diego Association of Governments and North County Transit District until after the new ordinance kicks in.
It did approve Wood's appointments of council liaisons to various municipal boards and commissions.
With a different-from-usual split vote, the council decided against a proposed vehicle-towing yard at 1833 Oceanside Blvd. This time, Feller sided with Wood and Sanchez , Kern voted no, and Felien, who wanted the matter postponed for further study, abstained.
The council also honored Lori Lawson and Carl Henger and the Liberty Tax Service as business of the month.