By Joe Britton
City News Service
Councilman Carl DeMaio on Wednesday questioned $5.4 million in special pay annually given to San Diego firefighters who hold an emergency medical technician certification — a requirement of the job.
DeMaio called it a "questionable and dubious bonus" at a time when cuts are being proposed for next fiscal year that could result in the sidelining of additional fire engines and firefighter layoffs.
"... in this economic climate, when we have these sorts of budget challenges in the city of San Diego, we ought to suspend this bonus pay rather than continuing to pay people bonuses for job qualifications that they are already required to have just to hold the job in the Fire Department," DeMaio said.
In response, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Javier Mainar said DeMaio's characterization of the special pay as a bonus was a "flat-out lie" and accused him of possessing a "total lack of integrity."
"It is a personal insult to me, the firefighters that I represent, that Mr. DeMaio would purposely mislead the public into believing we would condone such a practice, particularly in light of all of the service reductions we have implemented and (that) are now impacting the public," Mainar said.
Mainar said the department has historically given specialty pay to firefighters who acquire special skills, including, EMTs, paramedics, members of the bomb squad, those on the hazardous materials team and pilots.
"It is these special pays for those particular duties that Mr. DeMaio characterizes as bonuses, knowing full well they are nothing of the sort and a common practice throughout public safety employment," Mainar said.
Even with the special pay, San Diego firefighters are compensated less than other comparable departments, he said.
Last week, Mainar outlined $7.2 million in proposed cuts for the Fire Department in the coming fiscal year that are intended to help close a projected $72 million budget shortfall citywide.
Mainar said the cuts would result in the elimination of staffing for a seasonal firefighting helicopter, instituting
brownouts'' for five additional engine companies, laying off up to 60 firefighters and cutting some lifeguard protection.
Officials with Mayor Jerry Sanders' office have said that without new revenue, the cuts are inevitable.
The mayor's office is pushing for the passage of Proposition D, a half-cent sales tax increase that will be on the Nov. 2 ballot, to help close the gap.
Opponents of Proposition D, led by DeMaio, insist that the budget gap could be closed by eliminating wasteful spending at City Hall, overhauling the pension system and streamlining finances.
DeMaio said he plans to announce further examples of municipal "waste" over the next three weeks.