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      San Benito Firefighter - Budget puts public safety at stake

      When a field of tires caught fire outside San Benito, the San Benito Fire Department could not put it out.

      According to San Benito firefighter Henry Lopez, the department did not have enough men.

      He fears more men could be lost, and public safety is at stake.

      Lopez said proposed changes in the city budget may make some firefighters to leave.

      They will leave to go where they get paid more, said firefighter Henry Lopez.

      Lopez is a 30-year veteran of the San Benito Fire Department.

      He said one reason he stayed so long was stability pay.

      It TMs an incentive created to keep firefighters in San Benito.

      Lopez said at one time the firefighters would train, then quickly leave for a higher paying job.

      "We were losing them, said Lopez. So as fast as we could train them, they were going somewhere else."

      But stability is a benefit up for debate in the budget, because the city says it's the same as longevity pay.

      "Stability pay is basically the same thing as longevity pay, said Assistant City Manager Art Rodriguez. That's what it's called."

      "That is completely different, said Lopez. Longevity is like for every year of service we're going to reward you."

      Without stability pay, Lopez stands to lose over $4,000 a year.

      Assistant City Manager Art Rodriguez said firefighters will still maintain longevity pay.

      It caps off at $1,200 a year after 25 years of service.

      Rodriguez now leads the San Benito Police and Fire Departments.

      When the budget is approved Oct. 1, he stands to gain a raise of $15,000.

      "A certain job has responsibilities, said Rodriguez. Certain pay goes with those responsibilities."

      Rodriguez said his job will include administrative and budget decisions.

      San Benito is like probably every other city in the nation right now, going through reassignment changes and looking at the economic climate, said Rodriguez.

      Rodriguez said his goal is to save the city money.

      He said he understands he may not be the most popular guy for his tough decisions.