Garden Grove

A switch to OCFA suffers some burns

GARDEN GROVE fire truck (GGFD photo).

By Jim Tortolano

The concept of merging the Garden Grove Fire Department into the Orange County Fire Authority took what one city councilman called “a punch in the gut” Tuesday night when a study revealed that making the switch would actually cost the city more money.

Ann Eifert, a senior administrative analyst for the city shocked many in attendance at the City Council meeting with the news that in the first year of such a change, the city would be spending $1.64 million more than if it were to continue to operate its own fire department. The gap would grow wider – to $1.99 million – in the second year.

Councilman John O’Neill made his comment because earlier in the meeting a proposal by the OCFA stated that Garden Grove would save $2.59 million in the first year and $2.3 million in the second.

The principal difference in the numbers was attributed to unfunded pension liabilities for fire department employees.

Garden Grove was considering such a switch as it faces an annual “structural deficit” and was seeking ways to trim costs. The council made no decision Tuesday, but a study session will be held in two weeks with a possible final decision at the Aug. 21 meeting.

Under the OCFA proposal, the staffing level for Garden Grove would remain the same as with the current GGFD, but with additional paramedics. That would improve paramedic response time, according to Todd Schultz, fire chief.

But the money issue was what drove the issue forward initially.  When asked if the agency would be willing to rework its numbers, OCFA chief Brian Fennessy shook his head. “This is a cost-recovery contract,” he said, indicating that it would simply match the agency’s expenses in providing fire and paramedic services to Garden Grove.

Earlier in the meeting, the council heard some grim and related news. A consulting firm, Management Partners, reported that the city was facing some tough choices.

In analyzing the city’s short- and long-term finances, Robert Leland told the council “It’s wishful thinking that revenue growth alone can solve this structural shortfall.”

The council would have to either make drastic cuts or seek a “local revenue option,” which translated as a tax increase. City leadership is considering asking the public to vote for 1-cent sales tax hike which could provide as much as $19 million annually to municipal coffers.

Westminster voters in 2016 approved a 1-cent local sales tax. Other area cities such as Stanton have a utility users tax.


2 replies »

    • The city has already commissioned a poll asking residents to say whether they would support a 1 cent sales tax and there have been mailings and “town halls” to make the point that the city may need more money to support police and fire. Council members have repeatedly mentioned the sales tax idea at their meetings, including the one on Tuesday night.

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