The Hawaii Fire Department is on track to meet its 2020-21 budget, Deputy and acting Fire Chief Robert Perreira said Wednesday.
As of Nov. 30, the department had expended 44.6% of its $51.92 million budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, Perreira told the Hawaii County Fire Commission’s nine members Wednesday at the West Hawaii Civic Center. Current projections show the year closing 1.37% under budget.
“Currently, we’re right on track, doing what we need to do to manage our financial situation,” said Perreira, noting the department is working closely with county Finance Director Deanna Sako to ensure the budget is balanced and that “we continue to complete our mission in the department.”
The projection to remain in the black is likely due to the department’s ability to keep county dollars in the bank as Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds have covered a variety of costs and positions amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It’s expected to save $6 million in county funds in the first half of the fiscal year, Perreira said.
Those banked funds will be critical to sustaining operations in the second half of the fiscal year following the Dec. 30 sunset — or deadline — to expend the federal relief funds.
According to Perreira, the savings will be used to cover a $565,000 shortfall in the emergency medical services budget triggered by a 2.5% reduction by the state.
They will also be used to cover lifeguard services at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area starting Jan. 1 through June 30, 2021. The county has been using federal relief monies since July to fund lifeguards at the popular South Kohala spot after the state notified the county that due to reduced revenues it could no longer fund the $868,000 contract.
Meanwhile, the $480,000 contract for lifeguards at Kua Bay is funded by the state through June 30, 2021, Perreira said.
Beyond then, the outlook is uncertain for funding for the life-saving personnel at the two state parks.
“We’re going to have to advocate and lobby for that funding to continue to come from the state,” Perreira said urging commissioners to reach out to Hawaii Island representatives and senators. “That’s something that we are going have to push hard and obtain and work together to get that funding.”
When asked by the commission if there would be any reduction in services at Hapuna or Kua Bay, Perreira said, “no, not until June 30, 2021.”
“I will be meeting with Mayor (Mitch) Roth and we’re going see how we will move forward, and, obviously we’ve got to fight for funding from the state,” he said.
For the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2021, the department has submitted a “status quo” budget, with no increases or cuts from the fiscal year 2020-21 budget. A budget review meeting is slated later this month.
Supplemental budget requests were also submitted, Perreira said, but he did not provide a figure. Those requests include funding for apparatus, staffing, fire protection equipment critical for operations, firefighter personal protective equipment, increase in overtime funding, restoration of the previously reduced overtime budget, and a business manager position in the department.
The new business manager would oversee the department’s administrative staff, which includes human resources, and the finance and procurement divisions, said Perreira. The deputy chief and chief currently are responsible for the proposed position’s duties.
For the department’s emergency medical services (EMS) program, Perreira said the state set the fiscal year 2021-22 EMS base budget at $17.17 million, up from $17 million this year, ensuring funding for Medic 18 in the Puna subdivision of Hawaiian Paradise Park.
“It’s great news. … Medic 18 is in place; it’s not going to go anywhere and we’re thankful for that. It is one of the top five busiest ambulances on the island and it has shown its worth there in the community. We thank the state for not cutting that further,” he said, adding the county is still working with the state on collective bargaining to ensure funding for EMS salaries and wages and other expenses.
Also Wednesday, the commission elected current Chairman Robert Yamada to serve a second year as its chairman. Corey Luke was elected vice chairman for 2021.
Meanwhile, the selection process for the county’s next fire chief continues following the Nov. 1 retirement of Darren Rosario following a three-decade career in which he worked in every division of the Hawaii Fire Department except hazardous materials. He was appointed fire chief in 2011.
The five finalists to assume Rosario’s position are Battalion Chief William Bergin, Capt. Garrett Kim, Daniel Manning, Deputy Fire Chief Robert Perreira and Battalion Chief Kazuo Todd. The five were among 50 who applied for the position, and the only ones who met minimum qualification requirements, according to William Brilhante, director of Human Resources.
The top position in the Hawaii Fire Department was paid $153,096 in 2020. In fiscal year 2019-20, the 470-member department responded to 26,101 calls for assistance, of which nearly 18,000 were for emergency medical services and 900 were for fires or explosions.