San Bernardino Seal

Local Agency Formation Commission voted unanimously to move forward Wednesday with the city of San Bernardino’s proposal to annex the 137-year old San Bernardino Fire Department into Fire Protection District Service Zone FP5-5, giving responsibility for fire and emergency medical response to the county fire department.

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 01/27/16 – 11:09 AM PST |

SAN BERNARDINO >> A plan to outsource the city Fire Department and add a parcel tax of $148 per year took a big step forward Wednesday with the unanimous approval of the agency in charge of overseeing that process.

The Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, voted to move forward with San Bernardino’s proposal to annex the 137-year old San Bernardino Fire Department into Fire Protection District Service Zone FP5-5, giving responsibility for fire and emergency medical response to the county fire department. That also means that zone’s tax — $148 per parcel in fiscal year 2016-17, and increasing by up to 3 percent each year — would be applied to each of the more than 42,000 properties in the city.

LAFCO will mail a form to registered voters and landowners that allows them to protest that move, which could kill it if enough protest.

But commissioners said that while they were sympathetic to concerns about new taxes and the sentiment that City Hall caused the financial problems this move aims to fix, the annexation proposal was the only way to give the city adequate, sustainable public safety.

“I don’t like this decision,” said Commissioner Acquanetta Warren, who is also mayor of Fontana. “But we’re here because we need to lead. … If public safety has more cuts, it could be on the level of Armageddon for this city.”

Public safety — both fire and police protection — would continue to deteriorate if the plan wasn’t approved, said Andy Belknap of Management Partners, a consultant for the city.

“This will allow the city to get a sustainable level of service — which we are not at right now,” Belknap said. “The city fire service has been under severe stress for years.”

Overdue equipment maintenance and faster response times — in part due to the use of the county dispatch system — would be part of the switch, Belknap said, adding that the use of “tremendous economies of scale” was a path successfully taken by Fontana, Santa Ana, Irvine and other cities.

The city projects the plan will add $7 million to $8 million to its coffers, much of which will be used on a five-year plan to ramp up the Police Department, he said.

Outsourcing the Fire Department was a key part of the Plan of Adjustment that the city passed in April to guide its exit from bankruptcy and continued recovery, said City Attorney Gary Saenz.

“(The exit plan) is extremely comprehensive — it touches on almost every type of service — and it’s extremely cohesive, with parts working together,” Saenz said. “Two of the most important components of the plan are addressing our deficiencies in police and fire.”

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