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Board OKs Fire Advisory Committee : Government: Supervisors approve a 24-member group to suggest fiscal policy changes. Critics say funds are being wasted.

September 29, 1993|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to set up a citizens panel to advise the county on how to better run its Fire Department, which has been sharply criticized recently for wasting tax dollars.

The board voted 5 to 0 to form a 24-member advisory committee, made up of representatives from a variety of government, civic and community groups, to suggest changes in the department's fiscal policies.

"There needs to be a very realistic look at how the Fire Department should look in the future," Supervisor Maggie Kildee said. "It is very healthy to have the citizens participating as we talk about changes."

Fire officials have praised the formation of the panel, saying it could provide the department the direction it needs to provide comprehensive fire protection with fewer tax dollars.

"We are trying to validate the services we provide and make sure we are doing what the people paying for the services want," county Fire Chief George Lund said.

Critics have accused the department of wasting money by paying too much overtime to its firefighters--a ruckus that prompted supervisors several months ago to order an internal audit of how the department spends its $45-million budget.

According to Fire Department figures, the county's 326 firefighters received an average of $13,860 each in overtime pay during fiscal 1992-93.

The audit, conducted by county Auditor-Controller Thomas O. Mahon, is already completed. But the final draft of the audit will not be released until Lund adds his written comments, which he said he hopes to complete by Friday.

Lund, who has studied the audit's findings, said the advisory panel could help implement fiscal policy changes recommended in the audit.

"Hopefully, we will be able to get this panel organized and educated and get some meaningful feedback," Lund said.

He said the group will meet six times between October and January. At that time, the panel will deliver a report to the Board of Supervisors on its findings.

The panel will include appointees from each of the five county supervisors, a representative from each city served by the Fire Department, and representatives from area municipal advisory committees, the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn., Ventura County Economic Development Assn. and the Ventura County Farm Bureau.

The group will also include representatives from the League of Women Voters, Afro-American Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The three groups were added to the list Tuesday at the suggestion of Supervisor John K. Flynn, who told his fellow board members that it was important to include minority organizations in the process.

Flynn said the proposal to form the panel is a "good idea as long as the group agrees to analyze the Fire Department and look at the structure."

But he cautioned: "Sometimes groups like this are simply used as support groups."

Supervisor Maria VanderKolk said she was confident the advisory panel would provide the county with valuable suggestions.

Rex S. Laird, executive director of the county Farm Bureau, said his group welcomed the opportunity to participate on the panel.

"It is always good if you have citizens involved," Laird said. "Why shouldn't they be? That's who (the firefighters) work for."

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