Kern County supervisors approved a $6 million temporary loan to the Kern County Fire Department Tuesday to keep the agency afloat until the state and federal government reimburse it for fighting wildland fires.
“Last season was a record-setting fire season, in a bad way,” Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall said.
The Erskine Fire was the county’s most destructive but the Deer, Ranch and Cedar fires also drained county resources.
Across the state, Marshall said, the story was the same: a lot of big wildland fires that cost a lot of money to fight. Fire teams from Kern County helped out on many of those big blazes.
When firefighters head to an out-of-county fire, he said, they bill the state for the cost and add a 10 percent administrative fee on top.
“We bill these fires and the money comes in from state and federal agencies,” Marshall said.
This past year, the fire department billed for $16 million in costs. But, Marshall said, the county has not been paid $10 million of that money.
That, he said, is why the fire department needs the loan.
But the loan comes as the department struggles to balance a budget that is more than $9 million in deficit. Its revenues, which largely come from property taxes, are being drained by the same downturn in oil and gas revenues that has hit the county’s coffers.
Still, on Tuesday, supervisors didn’t blink at approving the loan. They voted for it without comment and Supervisor Zack Scrivner closed the issue by thanking Marshall.
“Your fire department did a wonderful job for us this past fire season,” Scrivner said.