Santa Rosa's proposed budget cuts include removing vacant firefighter positions

In Santa Rosa's Coffey Park, signs of recovery from last year’s devastating wildfires are almost everywhere. But one part of Santa Rosa shows no signs of bouncing back: The city budget.

“The state of our finances is not good. It pains me to say that, but it is the truth," said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey.

Coursey says Santa Rosa was having budget problems even before the fire. But the fires that killed nine of its residents and incinerated some 3,200 homes has made a bad budget situation even worse. A $30 million reserve fund is almost depleted.

Millions of dollars had to be spent on overtime for almost every city worker.

“We had people working outside their job responsibilities, directing traffic in front of the fairgrounds where we had an emergency shelter and working as public information officer with the county. Tons and tons of overtime," said Coursey. 

The city is now looking to make cuts to fend off a $15 million deficit.

And that includes proposed cuts in the fire department, the same department that fought those fires last year. 

It is planning to eliminate six currently vacant positions to save about a million dollars.

“More overtime for fewer people. That's hard on us. Because the more you work, the more you get hurt,” said Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner. “Less time with your family.”

Gossner says the cuts wouldn't affect the department’s ability to respond to emergencies.

“The citizens won't see any difference. But our folks will feel it," said Gossner. “We don't want to be talking about cutting firefighters on the anniversary of the biggest fire in state history. 

“We are dealing with reality.”

City officials are hoping Santa Rosa voters pass Measure O next month. That would raise the sales tax by a quarter cent for six years. If the measure fails, they say budget cuts could become much worse.