A controversial plan to charge fees for fire prevention services has been approved by the Hawthorne City Council.
It voted 3 to 0 to authorize the fees, which will primarily affect businesses and new development. Councilwoman Ginny M. Lambert abstained, saying that she wanted more information on the plan. Councilman David M. York was absent.
The city will charge $40 for checking a fire alarm system and $60 for a sprinkler system, plus $2 for each detector or sprinkler head. It will cost $90 to have the Fire Department inspect a new building for a certificate of occupancy.
Local businessmen have opposed the fees. At Monday's council meeting, Resident Craig Hancock said the charges amount to an illegal special tax that the council plans to use to provide a second paramedic unit long sought by the city.
Burden on Business
Hancock asserted that the fire inspection fees place an unfair burden on businesses. He said the approximately 900 people who signed petitions in favor of the additional rescue unit should "put their money where their mouths are" and chip in $332 a year each to pay for the service.
Councilman Steven Andersen replied that the fees cover only the cost of the services, and thus are legal under Proposition 13, the state's tax-limiting constitutional amendment.
The estimated $140,000 that the fees would raise annually represent new income to the city which in the past has absorbed the costs of the inspection service. The new revenue, which would go into the city's general fund, could help pay for a second paramedic unit, which has been estimated to cost $300,000 a year.
A ballot measure that would have financed the paramedic unit by taxing properties, based on the size of their water mains, failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote in November.
The council took no action on a proposed municipal hiring freeze that has been under consideration as Hawthorne attempted to improve its financial condition and provide additional paramedic services.