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Funding for Paramedics Debated in Hawthorne

November 29, 1987|SIOK-HIAN TAY | Times Staff Writer

The Hawthorne City Council, searching for ways to finance a second paramedic unit, discussed proposals last week ranging from implementing building inspection fees to replacing the city Fire Department with county fire services.

When the council resumes the debate at its next meeting, one key issue will be whether to pay $5,000 to find out what county fire service would cost.

During the often heated session Monday, more than 70 firefighters and supporters reacted angrily to suggestions from several residents that the department is overstaffed and spends too much on overtime.

Tax Proposal Defeated

The hearing comes less than a month after city voters defeated a tax proposal that would have provided $300,000 annually for the paramedic unit. The property tax, which would have added $16 to an average household's annual taxes for seven years, received 52% approval--short of the two-thirds needed.

Hawthorne Fire Chief Roger Milstead said more than 90% of the new unit's cost could be absorbed if property owners were charged for routine building inspections and plan checks now performed free by his department.

Other income-raising proposals the city is investigating are a tax on underground petrochemical pipes and an increase in business taxes. Hawthorne's annual budget is more than $36.5 million.

Mayor Betty J. Ainsworth said the city lost $133,000 in revenue last year because state law exempts hotels and motels from bed taxes if tenants rent for 30 days or more. She favors eliminating the exemption, although changing state law would take at least two years, she said.

At the Dec. 9 meeting, the council also will consider canceling April's biannual trash pickup for larger items and using the $45,000 saved to train the six paramedics, who would staff the second unit.

During the raucous session Monday, speakers frequently ignored Councilman Steven Andersen's plea to stick to the scheduled topic of financing a second paramedic unit; the debate soon turned to whether the county could provide comparable fire services for less money than a city-run department.

Budget Management Criticized

Booed by members of the Hawthorne Firemen's Assn., several supporters of the survey said the Fire Department would not be opposing the survey if it were efficiently managing its $4.5-million budget.

Former Hawthorne Fire Chief Ralph Hardin defended the department, saying its salary structure is lower than the county's, and pointed out that county firefighters "also earn overtime in exactly the same way our people do."

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