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Plan Threatens 7 Area Fire Stations : Finances: The county chief says his department would lose more than a third of its funding under the governor's proposal to transfer $2.6 billion to education.

June 02, 1993|LESLIE BERGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seven fire stations and three paramedics squads in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys could be among the local services cut if Gov. Pete Wilson's state budget proposal forces the drastic reductions predicted for the county Fire Department, Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said Tuesday.

Continuing a campaign to preserve a key funding source, Freeman, who oversees 127 fire stations and 2,800 employees, said the Los Angeles County Fire Department would lose more than a third of its funding under the governor's proposal to transfer $2.6 billion in property taxes to education. As a result, he said, the department would be forced to shut down 41 fire stations countywide as well as 16 of its 48 paramedics squads.

"I've been in the fire service almost 30 years, I've been through budgetary ups and downs, but I've never been faced with a 30% reduction in the Fire Department," said Freeman, who has joined fire chiefs and sheriffs statewide in opposing Wilson's proposed property tax shift.

Freeman said he planned to meet with state legislators today in Sacramento as part of an effort to defeat Wilson's budget proposal. In a similar attempt to defeat proposed budget cuts, Sheriff Sherman Block and hundreds of off-duty deputies last weekend took to malls and parks urging residents to sign petitions against Wilson's plan.

The proposed cuts in county fire services could include fire stations No. 124 in the Stevenson Ranch section of the Santa Clarita Valley; No. 79 in Pearblossom; No. 114 and No. 131 in Palmdale; No. 74 in San Fernando; and No. 67 and No. 125 in Calabasas.

Affected paramedics units could include those at Fire Station No. 124 in Stevenson Ranch, No. 92 in Littlerock, and No. 60 in Universal City, Freeman said.

Freeman said he chose the endangered fire stations and paramedics units on the basis of which could be reasonably covered by nearby facilities, though he added he could not "defend any one of the closures and I won't attempt to."

The county Fire Department also receives funding from an assessment levied on property owners within its jurisdiction and asked the Board of Supervisors a month ago to raise that assessment from the current rate of $36.55 for a single-family home to $196 a year.

But the supervisors rejected the proposal. County officials said the board could reconsider raising the assessment, though such a large increase might require a public hearing and vote, and the process would have to be initiated quickly.

The assessment began in 1991 at about $14 a year for single-family homes and was raised to $36.55 last year.

"It was established in the first place to stave off the budget shortfall they had," said Diane Shamhart, a supervising budget analyst for the county. "No one in their wildest imaginations ever thought the second year it would have to be increased."

Of the county Fire Department's $357-million budget, $122 million comes from property taxes. The department serves more than 3 million people in 50 municipalities throughout the county, as well as its unincorporated areas.

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