The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved placing a parcel tax on the March ballot that would give the Los Angeles Fire Department a budget increase of $134 million per year. The department, which has a current budget of $1.3 billion, says the increase in funding will help the department hire more paramedics and update antiquated equipment.
A parcel tax assesses a flat fee on each parcel of property, regardless of property value. If approved, the parcel tax would be permanently changed, unless the voters were to revoke the measure in the future.
To pass, the ballot will require two-thirds of voters’ approval on March 3, 2020. If it does, Los Angeles County residents will have to pay up to 2% more on property tax every year, which is 6 cents more per square foot.
“Over the past 10 years, we’ve experienced a more than 50% increase in the number of emergency medical incidents that we respond to. However, less than 5% increase in the number of paramedics,” said Sean Serguson, inspector of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “In an effort to get paramedics to residents’ houses as quickly as possible, we are going to use this funding to increase staffing levels, and upgrade outdated equipment and vehicles.”
According to the measure from Los Angeles County, 911 emergency medical assistance and rescue operations respond to 1,200 calls per day, and 84% of these calls are asking help for medical assistance such as, strokes, heart attacks or car accidents. The measure also stated that firefighters are using 20-year-old fire engines and rescue vehicles that frequently break down and are costly to maintain and repair.
Serguson said the department’s communication system was built around the mid-1980s.
“Our fire department communication systems are used for emergency response, lifesaving protection. And as a result, they’re incompatible with wireless networks and other modern digital systems," he said. "These are things we use hundreds if not thousands of times a day to handle emergencies in the County of Los Angeles.”
Current equipment for the Los Angeles Fire Department does not provide GPS mapping tools, which is critical when emergencies happen, Serguson said.
“When an incident commander is on a large commercial structure fire that may encompass a block, he needs to be able to look down and see where his units are placed, where the hydrants are," he said. “And with the current technology we have, it’s extremely difficult and cumbersome to do that.”
So far, more than 5,641 wildfires have happened in California in 2019 with many occurring in Los Angeles County.
Liz Odendahl, the communication director in Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office stated that firefighters are fighting bigger and more dangerous fires, calling for voter’s support.
“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.” Odendahl stated.