Fire committee advises city to stay with OCFA

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Fire Station 48, pictured here, is one of two in Seal Beach. File photo

The Seal Beach Fire Services Advisory Ad Hoc Committee voted Monday to reccommend that the City Council continue to pay the Orange County Fire Authority to provide emergency services to the community.

The final decision belongs to the City Council.

The vote was 5 to 1 in favor of the recommendation, with one committee member absent. Two of the yes votes were cast by council members and committee members Sandra Massa-Lavitt and Ellery Deaton.

The recommendation left the matter of finding a way to pay for fire and paramedic services to the City Council, which will also have the final say in whether to stay with or leave the Fire Authority. A sales tax and a parcel tax were among the ideas discussed during Monday’s committee meeting.

The dissenting vote was cast by Michael Maronta, representing District Two. “I guess the problem I have with it is that we have no way of controlling the costs of the OCFA,” Maronta said after the meeting.

“We haven’t saved any money,” he said. During the meeting, he expressed concern that Seal Beach is one of only 15 members of the Fire Authority Board.

Seal Beach, and other Orange County cities, have until the end of June to decide whether to remain with the Fire Authority or have another entity provide emergency services. The city’s fiscal (financial) year also ends at the end of June, so budget-related decisions will have be made soon.

District One Committee Member Joe Kalmick, a former volunteer firefighter, made the motion to advise the City Council to stay with OCFA, but as part of his motion left finding a means to pay for emergency services to the council and city staff.

Deaton said that as she looked the numbers, the Fire Authority’s four-person fire engines cost less than the projected expenses for three-person engines submitted by the Huntington Beach and Long Beach Fire Departments. (OCFA will only provide four-person engines to Seal Beach.)

According to the power point presentation by Michele Hernandez, the project manager, the annual cost of OCFA services was more than $5.2 million (all numbers rounded), the annual cost of Seal Beach having its own fire department was more than $5.8 million with three-person engines and almost $7.4 million with four-person engines. Huntington Beach estimated a cost more than $7.4 million for a four-person engine and Long Beach estimated $6.9 million.

However, the $5.2 million Fire Authority bill includes a potential 4.5 percent annual increase. In addition, every five years the OCFA is allowed to recover expenses above the cost of the contract.

According to an early May presentation by Lori Zeller, OCFA, assistant chief of business services, the Fire Authority spends in excess of $1.9 million more in Seal Beach that it makes from Seal Beach.

Funding options

Committee members discussed funding options, including taxes. One committee member suggested selling or leasing city assets.

According to City Attorney Craig Steele, a tax to fund a specific purpose would be considered a special tax and would require approval of two-thirds of voters.

To get on the November ballot, Seal Beach officials have until Aug. 10 to submit a measure to Orange County.District Five Committee Member Donald Horning was absent Monday, but in a memo to the committee, which also supported staying with OCFA, he proposed a special tax.

“While unfortunate for taxpayers, I recommend a minimal parcel tax of $200 per year,” Horning wrote.

Massa-Lavitt raised concern about how a parcel tax would be applied to Leisure World residents.

According to Finance Director Victoria Beatley, a half of one percent sales tax could generate $1.8 million in revenue, a figure she later described as a “back of the envolope” number. Beatley also used that phrase to describe her estimate that a $100-per-parcel tax would generate about $580,000.

Beatley, pointing out that the city is a member of the Chamber of Commerce, said that the Board had indicated they think local merchants could sustain a half of a percent sales tax increase.

Seal Beach Chamber President Scott Levitt told the Sun, “I personally have no knowledge of any discussion about a sales tax increase.”

Deaton wanted more analysis from Beatley before making recommendation about paying for city services. Massa-Lavitt thought the city should increase sales taxes by 1 percent.

District Four Committee Member Thom Thomas offered several suggestions for increasing the city’s revenues, including taking over management of the Sunset Aquatic Park (which is geographically located in the Sunset Beach area but is legally part of Seal Beach).

Thomas also suggested relocating the police sub-station at the pier, which is staffed by Volunteers In Policing, to City Hall and leasing the building to a restaurant.

He also proposed leasing or selling the Girl Scout House and having the scouts move into one of the empty offices at City Hall.

He proposed selling the lots at the east and west ends of Electric Avenue. Thomas suggested the city encourage an automobile dealer to sell cars from spaces in the parking area behind Sprouts (located in the Shops at Rossmoor in Seal Beach center).

Deaton said she had tried to dicuss using the lot behind Spouts with the property owners and was rebuffed.

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