By Jim Tortolano
After months of debate, conflicting mathematics and anxiety about a voter decision on raising taxes, the Garden Grove City Council finally made a decision on a proposal to move from a municipal fire department to contracting with the Orange County Fire Authority.
The council voted 6-1 Tuesday night – with Councilman Kris Beard casting the lone dissenting vote – to direct the city manager to enter into negotiations with OCFA for a contract to provide fire and paramedic services.
The negotiations are expected to take about two months, and a 120-day transition period would follow, putting the timeline for the dissolution of the 92-year-old Garden Grove Fire Department at April or May 2019.
Members of the local firefighters association broke into applause and cheers when the vote was completed. The GGFA has been urging the city to make the switch to the countywide agency, which has promised to take on all the firefighters and paramedics now in the GGFD.
During the discussion leading up to the vote, Councilman Phat Bui spoke in favor of the change, focusing on the issue of paramedic response time, citing friends of his who had suffered strokes and heart attacks. In a recent analysis, the GGFD reported that it had managed the desirable six-minute response time for paramedic calls only 38 percent of the time.
But Beard was concerned about the loss of local control and the possible financial risks. He argued in favor of the city investing in upgrading the GGFD to OCFA standards. Fire Chief Tom Schultz has submitted a plan to add paramedics and make other changes that he says would allow it to match OCFA’s response times.
“The best way to predict the future is to control it,” said Beard.
Financial estimates varied. A report from a city financial analyst stated that over 10 years, a switch to the OCFA would cost taxpayers an additional $10 million. But the firefighters’ spokesman, Eric Thorson, argued that instead it would cost only about $250,000 to $275,000 extra for that period.
He urged the council to make a decision “tonight,” claiming that “the fire department is falling apart.”
Mayor Steve Jones had the last word. He listed three issues at hand: quality of service, cost and nostalgia for a public agency whose roots go back to the Roaring Twenties with a volunteer firefighting force.
“I’ve heard from very few people about the nostalgia,” he said. “Things have changed. We’re a big city now. The nostalgia ship has already sailed.”
He pronounced the OCFA “a class act,” adding “the future of firefighting is a regional approach.” As for cost, he said “it’s basically a wash,” contradicting the city financial analysis.
Also on Tuesday night, the city council voted 6-0 – with Bui abstaining – in favor of an ordinance to begin implementation of the 1-cent sales tax approved by Garden Grove voters on Nov. 6. Collection of the new tax will begin on April 1, 2019.
Categories: Garden Grove