LA WATCHDOG - Our Fire Department is experiencing an unprecedented amount of bad publicity these days, in large part because of the financial difficulties caused by runaway personnel expenditures and budget cutbacks demanded by the fiscally irresponsible City Council.
The Los Angeles Fire Department’s credibility has been seriously undermined as a result of the disclosure by The Los Angeles Times that for the last several years, the management of the LAFD has been disseminating misleading information about its response times.
This has led to fireworks at the City Council where the management geniuses on the City Council wondered why the Department has not produced the “requested a plan to improve services and shorten response times.”
In response, politically appointed Chief Cummings stunned the City Council by criticizing these princes of the City for not providing the LAFD with adequate funding.
There has also been management turmoil as Chief Millage Peaks retired in July of 2011 after only two years on the job because of the political pressure caused by inadequate funding of the Department, the 10% reduction in positions, the inability to control labor costs, and the constant meddling by the all knowing members of the City Council and the financial wizards in the Mayor’s office.
In June of 2012, after less than three months on the job, high profile Jeffrey Godown resigned as the interim director of statistical research because of the unwillingness of senior management to support his efforts to determine the correct response times and the lack of adequate resources, technology, and qualified personnel.
The reputation of the LAFD suffered further damage by the leaking of confidential information (social security number and date of birth) of the Department’s ambulance service patients by a tax scamming employee of Advanced Data Processing, the billing firm used by the LAFD.
While the funding of the Fire Department since 2007 has been up and down and the up again in the current fiscal year because of political pressure, the primary culprit underlying its financial stress has been the 26% increase in the average compensation package to a mind blowing $204,000.
The surprisingly generous package consists of $106,000 in salary and $33,000 in overtime, a total of $139,000, plus an additional $65,000 in “pensions and retirement” and “human resource benefits.”
While the headcount is down 10% (almost 400 positions), the cost of benefits and pensions has increased by $85 million while raises for the remaining positions has chewed up over $50 million.
The Fire Department also appears to be suffering from the lack of a long term strategic plan to provide adequate service and response times, especially given that 80% of its calls are medically related.
For example, how many times have you seen an ambulance respond to a medically related emergency accompanied by a pumper and a hook and ladder?
Rather than take the time to plan for the future, the Fire Department and City Council have determined that the solution is to throw more money at the problem.
As a result of a back room deal with the real estate industry, the Herb Wesson-led City Council placed Proposition A on the ballot in less than two weeks without any hearings or community input.
This less than transparent ballot measure calls for a PERMANENT half cent increase in our already regressive sales tax to a job killing 9.5%, one of the highest rates in the country.
But by not addressing the problem in a realistic manner through staffing, salary, pension, and benefit reform, the Fire Department and the City are continuing to “kick the can down the road” to insolvency.
From the next 5 weeks, we will be bombarded by City Hall and their self serving campaign contributors - such as AEG ($100,000), JH Snyder ($25,000), the developer of a major league project at Wilshire and Vermont, and the California Association of Realtors ($10,000) - as to why we need to vote for Proposition A.
But the City has not earned our vote since it has failed to implement real budget, pension, and work place reform, with Exhibit A being the Los Angeles Fire Department and its $204,000 average compensation package.
Nor have any of the campaign funding unions agreed to forego any wage increases in June of 2014 if this $200 million tax increase is approved by the voters, implying that the $768 million increase in personnel costs over the next four years will be rise significantly.
So the message is very simple. No reform. No new revenues.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vol 11 Issue 8
Pub: Jan 25, 2013