Budget woes endanger wildfire protection efforts | SierraSun.com

Budget woes endanger wildfire protection efforts

NEVADA COUNTY “-Local and regional fire prevention programs are in danger of losing state and federal funding for defensible space and woodchipping programs.

In limbo for months, state budget delays mean an unknown future for the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County as well as funding for defensible space programs at local fire districts.

Promises for payment before Christmas fell through on a number of state and federal grants that supply the bulk of the council’s revenue, Executive Director Joanne Drummond said.

As a result, local chipping contractors are still waiting for payment from the council on work they did last summer, flammable brush is stacking up in residential neighborhoods, and at least one person has lost a job.

“We have been holding our breath since July for the state to figure out their finances,” Drummond said.

Outstanding invoices total $180,000, the office manager was let go and the bookkeeper is working less than half time. In December, the council’s board told Drummond, the nonprofit group’s only full-time staffer, to take two weeks off.

“If something doesn’t shake loose soon, we’ll be in trouble,” Drummond said.

In 2007-2008, the Fire Safe Council spent $300,000 on its chipping program and $170,000 on fuels reduction.

The Truckee Fire Protection District likewise has reimbursed expenses and an uncertain outlook for this summer’s state and federally funded fire prevention program, said Chief Bryce Keller.

“We typically spend about $115,000 in state and federal funding,” Keller said. “It’s extremely valuable in contributing to the fire safety of the community.”

He said the district will look to other funding sources and/or cutting back on the curb-side chipping program and defensible space counseling.

In the Basin, North Tahoe Fire Chief Duane Whitelaw said $6.2 million from the U.S. Forest Service for fuels reduction could be divvied up between Tahoe fire districts to help defray the loss from the state, but he said he is still concerned.

About $200,000 the state owes North Tahoe Fire for going on aid calls to places like southern California isn’t being paid, he said, and roughly $100,000 for chipping programs is either not being paid for work done or frozen for work planned, Whitelaw said.

And he said there is the constant fear that the state will take a greater portion of property tax revenues ” the sole source of funding for many fire districts.

The uncertainty comes during a record dry January already casting worrisome shadows on next summer’s fire season.

“With this weather out there, it looks like it’s going to be another bad year,” Drummond said.

” Laura Brown contributed to this report

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