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Fire Tax Hike Gets Board of Supervisors' Approval

But the $1.22/parcel property tax increase won't fix a $43 million shortfall.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a $1.22 increase in the annual parcel tax homeowners pay for fire services and asked the auditor-controller to review fire department's finances.

Supervisor Gloria Molina recommended the review, asking Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe to validate last year's revenues and major expenditures, and work with department management to project future revenue and spending and to report back to the board within 90 days.

Watanabe also will look at whether cities that contract with the county for fire protection are being charged appropriately.

Fire Chief Daryl Osby told the board last week that the department's expenses were continuing to rise while revenues -- which come primarily from property taxes -- were just beginning to trend up after years in decline.

Osby, promoted to chief in February 2011, inherited a structural deficit, and the department has been using reserves to close its budget gap.

"It's not sustainable," Osby told the board at last week's meeting. The rising cost of employee benefits is among the problems. Last year's increases in medical, retirement and workers' compensation benefits were more than double the increase in property tax revenues over the same period, according to Osby.

The proposed tax increase will not go very far in fixing that problem. County CEO William Fujioka said he expected it to bring in roughly $1.5 million extra, but the fire department's operating shortfall was about $43 million.

The board's voted unanimously to approve the increase and the financial review. It also directed the CEO to work with department management to prepare five-year budget estimates.

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