A plan by the San Bernardino City Council to fully outsource the city’s fire department and add an additional parcel tax of $148 per year took another step forward in early February as the council voted unanimously to approve the agency tasked with overseeing the process of implementing the proposed changes.
The Local Agency Formation Commission, the LAFCO, elected to proceed with the city’s proposal to annex the county’s 137-year old fire department into the recently created San Bernardino Fire Protection District Service Zone FP-5. The move transfers responsibility for emergency medical response to the historic firehouse. The vote also means that the service zone’s tax would be levied on more than 42,000 properties within the city limits. The zone tax, currently $148 per parcel per year, is set to increase by 3 percent per year.
The Local Agency Formation Commission will mail forms to registered voters within the affected areas sometime within the next few month. The forms allow residents to protest the change. If enough voters file protests, the new service zoning regulations could be stopped in their tracks.
San Bernardino city commissioners said at the latest meeting of the city council that although they understood residents’ concerns about new taxes the annexation of the old firehouse was the only way to ensure that the city and its inhabitants had access to necessary public safety services.
Mayor of Fontana and Commissioner Acquanetta Warren said that she did not like the decision but that more cuts to the public safety budget would court disaster for the entire city.
Andy Belknap, a consultant with Management Partners, which consults the city, echoed Warren’s sentiment. Belknap said that the city’s fire service has been under severe strain for years, and that the new zoning rules and parcel taxes would enable better service and response times.
Addressing overdue maintenance and the need for more rapid response times would be just a few of the benefits of the new zoning changes and parcel taxes, according to Belknap. The economies of scale created by the new rules would create long-term cost savings for the city, and emulates a model which has proved successful in other municipalities such as Fontana, Santa Ana and Irvine.
The city predicts that the plan will put at least an additional $7 million, most of which will be put toward a five-year plan to improve the city’s police department. Outsourcing the fire department will keep the city solvent and allow it to continue its progress towards fiscal stability.
Even San Bernardino’s firefighters are onboard with the plan to outsource the department. San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig has said that the county would take local accountability very seriously as the department transfers to an outsourced role.
The move would end years of cutbacks in the San Bernardino county fire department’s budget, something which invites support from local firefighters.
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