A Reshuffling of Funds Helps to Restore Services to Long Beach Fire and Police Departments
Written by: Jason Ruiz - Long Beach Post
It’s been seven years since North Long Beach has had its own paramedic rescue unit, but after Tuesday night’s Long Beach City Council meeting, those days are numbered. The council voted unanimously to restore Rescue 12 as well as resume police academy activity, delivering on its promise to revamp the city’s public safety infrastructure after the passage of Measure A in November.
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson recounted his days as the chief of staff to his predecessor, then Ninth District Councilman Steven Neal, when the word came down that Rescue 12 would be part of the city’s budget cuts in 2010. The vice mayor said that it led to some uncomfortable conversations with constituents about the loss of a vital public safety asset and how it would impact response times.
Those response times increased nearly a full minute over a decade, rising from five minutes and 29 seconds on all calls in 2005 to six minutes and 16 seconds in 2015. As of last year the city’s fire department was only meeting the national average for response times on 44 percent of calls leading to a number of his constituents appearing before the council in November to detail the sometimes agonizing waits they’ve endured while waiting for emergency responders to show up in North Long Beach.
By restoring Rescue 12, six additional firefighters will be reintroduced to the city’s network, not only improving response times in the North, but easing a system that has seen its response times rise due to the strains left in place by budget cuts made during the recession.
“With these restorations we have a lower paramedic response time across the entire city, a paramedic station at Fire Station 12 to serve North Long Beach and a fully capable advanced life support services,” Richardson said. “We’ve been discussing this for years and we’ve always made public safety a top priority, and now we have a fiscally and structurally sound plan to restore services that we can count on and our residents deserve.”
The fire department is not the only beneficiary of the vote as the Long Beach Police Department will also gain nine officer positions with reallocated funding from the voter-approved sales tax increase, Measure A. Projected to bring in around $48 million annually through the first six years of the 10-year tax, the measure’s revenue, which started streaming on January 1, has already accounted for 35 sworn positions citywide.
“Because of Measure A we restored Engine 8 in Belmont Shore, we restored South Division in Downtown,” said Mayor Robert Garcia, who successfully campaigned for the measure’s passage last year. “Because of Measure A, tonight we’re restoring the rescue to North Long Beach and we’re restoring the police academy unit to ensure that the training is the best possible in the City of Long Beach. This is exactly what the measure was about.”
The cost of restoring Rescue 12 and the academy comes at a price tag of $1.5 million in the current fiscal year with an ongoing cost of $2.5 million for 2018 and beyond. Richardson had requested in November that city staff explore ways to finance the two restorations and at the beginning of the month city staff returned with its answer.
In a memo to the city manager, Director of Financial Management John Gross wrote that although other new funding sources like county tax measures M and A and the city tax on medical marijuana could also be in play, at present, those funds are needed to sustain current public safety services and other operations.
The recommendation made by Gross and approved by the council Tuesday night will reallocate Measure A spending on infrastructure, deferring funds originally allocated for infrastructure, including residential street repairs, to fund the restorations.
A total $6.5 million out of the planned $98 million in infrastructure repairs earmarked in a three-year plan outlined by the city after the passage of Measure A will be deferred to the 2020 fiscal year. However, additional one-time funds will be made available in year four of the tax to fund infrastructure.
“These revenues are allowed to be used for on-going operations,” the document states. “In order to fund the additional restorations, $6.5 million of the planned $98 million in infrastructure projects will be deferred to FY 20. For FY 17, $1.5 million of residential street repair will be deferred until FY 18. Impacts to other infrastructure projects in FY 18 and FY 19 will be determined as part of those budget processes.”
The police and fire department restorations are effective March 1.