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Firefighters Are Critical of Carona

After an assistant sheriff questions union-backed initiative on sales tax revenue, an association official suggests withdrawing support.

March 26, 2004|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

One of Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona's top assistants Thursday criticized a proposed initiative to take sales tax revenue from his department and give it to firefighters, a move that caused the firefighters union to accuse Carona of backing down from a campaign pledge and threatening their support for him.

The Orange County Professional Firefighters Assn. supported Carona's campaign for sheriff in 1998, in part because he promised to support sharing sales tax revenue with firefighters. In 1993, California voters approved Proposition 172, a half-cent sales tax hike with money earmarked for public safety, including law enforcement and fire departments.

But since the 1993 election, the Orange County Board of Supervisors has given 80% of the sales tax money to the Sheriff's Department and 20% to the district attorney. Carona has not helped firefighters receive any of the money, said Dan S. Young, vice president of the firefighters union.

The union is gathering signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that would require the county to give as much as 10% of that sales tax money to firefighters, which could take more than $20 million per year from sheriff's deputies and the district attorney.

Assistant Sheriff Doug Storm told the Orange County Fire Authority's board of directors Thursday that he thinks the initiative is a bad idea and urged them to rethink their support. He suggested that local government officials negotiate a compromise. "I don't think we want to, in this county, pit our firefighters against our policemen," Storm said.

Fire union officials say they're upset that Carona has not worked to get them a share of the sales tax increase.

"It's not so much betrayed, it's disappointed," Young said. "For him to change his mind and do a 180 [-degree turn] now, it's frustrating.... What I can tell you is we probably won't support him again."

The Fire Authority, which provides protection to 22 cities, says it needs the money to hire more firefighters and to purchase equipment.

But sheriff's officials and some Board of Supervisors members note that fire departments were not affected by a state decision in the early 1990s that took property tax revenue away from many local agencies, including the Sheriff's Department.

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