L.A. County says tax increase is necessary to properly fund fire department
Today, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place a measure to raise revenue for the Los Angeles County Fire Department on the upcoming March ballot. If approved by voters, the six-cent parcel tax measure will allow Los Angeles County Fire Department to hire more paramedics and firefighters, update lifesaving equipment, and meet the challenges presented by more frequent wildfires and rising 911 calls.
“Our residents have always been able to count on our LA County firefighters and paramedics in their moment of need, but now they need us,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “Our firefighters are fighting bigger and more dangerous fires and our paramedics are responding to record numbers of 911 medical calls. Their budget has been stretched to the breaking point and we cannot take them for granted. This March, voters will have the opportunity to give these men and women the resources they need to do their jobs protecting communities and saving lives each and every day.”
The Los Angeles County Fire Department serves 58 of the county’s 88 cities and all of its unincorporated areas, including Whittier, which make up the County’s Consolidated Fire Protection District. The LA County Fire Department is not funded through the County’s general fund. Instead, the Fire District is responsible for raising its own revenue via property taxes collected within the district. Unfortunately, the funding collected has not kept up with the Department’s growing resource needs.
“Today’s fast-moving, explosive wildfires and the rising numbers of 911 calls are really putting a strain on the hardworking men and women who are our local firefighter/paramedics,” said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby. “There’s a human impact on them as we stretch to ensure the safety of our neighbors and community. We desperately need more resources to meet today’s demands. I’m grateful to the Board for placing this much-needed ballot measure before our voters.”
Over the past decade, the demand on the Department for emergency medical services has grown exponentially. Since 2008, LA County has seen an over 50 percent increase in calls for assistance in medical emergencies, such as strokes, heart attacks and car accidents. Yet, in that same time period, there has been less than a 5 percent increase in paramedic units to respond to those calls. The Fire District currently lacks the funding to meet national standard staffing levels as set by the National Fire Protection Association.
The “fire season” in LA County is growing longer and wildfires are becoming more frequent. Climate change has created drier, windier conditions which have fueled larger and more dangerous wildfires. We can no longer count on other fire departments sending firefighters to help battle our wildfires, since wildfires have been burning simultaneously up and down the state and drawing resources.
LA County firefighters and paramedics are using decades-old equipment that needs to be replaced, county officials said. Twenty-year-old fire engines and rescue vehicles frequently break down and are costly to repair and maintain. The Fire District’s antiquated 30-year-old 9-1-1 communications system is incompatible with modern wireless and digital systems. This poses challenges for paramedics who need to communicate directly with emergency rooms while transporting patients and to firefighters on the ground coordinating fire response and evacuations.
The system also does not provide GPS mapping, a critical tool to reduce response times. The department is also in need of thermal image cameras used to locate and rescue children, the elderly, and people with disabilities who are particularly vulnerable during fires, floods and earthquakes.
“When you call 911, you know help is coming. For us, this is our 911,” said LA County Firefighter/Paramedic Erin Regan. “We are asking you for this measure because our firefighters and paramedics in the field need more resources”
The measure will be placed on the March 3, 2020 ballot for voters within the fire district. Should voters approve by a two-thirds vote, the resulting parcel tax of $0.06 per square foot would collect approximately $134 million a year from residents in the Consolidated Fire Protection District. Government parcels, non-profits, and low-income seniors would be exempt from the parcel tax. The funds will be used to hire and train additional firefighters and paramedics and replace aging safety gear, communications tools, and lifesaving rescue equipment.
A May 2018 needs assessment ordered by the Board of Supervisors for the Fire District demonstrated that additional funding is “urgently needed” to hire and train more firefighters and paramedics to accommodate the increasing need for life-saving emergency medical services and to maintain, upgrade, and replace its safety equipment, emergency communication systems, facilities, life-saving devices, and vehicles.
The Woolsey Fire After Action Review released in October 2019 showed that mutual aid agreements with fire departments across the state failed to bring the needed resources and firefighters to fight Woolsey. Both the Camp Fire and Hill Fire began shortly before the Woolsey Fire, exhausting the fire services mutual aid system up and down the state.
The LA County Consolidated Fire District includes the cities of Agoura Hills, Artesia, Azusa, Baldwin Park, Bell, Bellflower, Bell Gardens, Bradbury, Calabasas, Carson, Cerritos, Claremont, Commerce, Covina, Cudahy, Diamond Bar, Duarte, El Monte, Gardena, Glendora, Hawaiian Gardens, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Hidden Hills, Huntington Park, Industry, Inglewood, Irwindale, La Canada Flintridge, Lakewood, La Mirada, Lancaster, La Puente, Lawndale, Lomita, Malibu, Maywood, Norwalk, Palmdale, Paramount, Pico Rivera, Pomona, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, Rosemead, San Dimas, Santa Clarita, Signal Hill, South El Monte, South Gate, Temple City, Walnut, West Hollywood, Westlake Village, and Whittier, and all those within the unincorporated areas of the County of Los Angeles.