Los Angeles County firefighters work in South Gate last year. The Fire Department… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday expressed reservations about approving a tax increase to help their Fire Department reduce a $43-million deficit.
The department, which has a $940-million total budget and serves about 4 million residents in the unincorporated parts of the county and 58 contract cities, had asked that supervisors raise the fire protection district tax by 2%, which would increase the rate for a single family home by about $1 to $62.26.
The increase would only bring in $1.5 million in additional revenue, but Fire Department officials said it was an "essential funding component" in a letter to the board.
Fire Department officials also said they could manage the $43-million deficit by using other funds, but supervisors still expressed alarm.
The tax increase "isn't going to solve your problem," Supervisor Gloria Molina told Fire Chief Daryl Osby. "I still think we need a plan as to how you're going to get out of this structural deficit."
Fire Department officials said that some expenses, including retiree benefits and workers' compensation, have grown faster than the amount of revenue the department receives.
They also said the department could continue providing the same level of service even if supervisors do not put the measure on the ballot. They have also been saving money by putting off some repairs and other work.
"Right now, we're only addressing those infrastructure needs that are truly critical," Osby said.
Supervisors are scheduled to vote on the measure next week, but warned that the Fire Department would have to find a way to either increase revenue or cut costs.
"At some point in the next year or so, this board and the Fire Department is going to have to come to the mountain on how to deal with this structural deficit because those reserves aren't going to last forever," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.