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El Segundo voters keep city's Fire Department

April 11, 2012 | 11:47 am

Voters in El Segundo on Tuesday resoundingly turned down a ballot initiative that would have dismantled the El Segundo Fire Department and consolidated its services with the L.A. County Fire Department.

Out of nearly 3,000 ballots, more than 2,600 voters cast a no vote for Measure P.

The controversial measure was initially considered by the City Council two years ago when the city was running a deficit of $8.7 million. But the council decided against the initiative when residents voiced their indignation at the prospect of losing a department that has been part of the city since 1917.

Since then the deficit has closed, said City Clerk Cindy Mortesen, who cited layoffs and early retirement. There were also salary concessions from employee groups, including a reduction in the use of overtime among firefighters.

The El Segundo Firefighters Assn., the union that represents the city’s firefighters, subsequently collected enough signatures to keep the measure on the ballot, and Fire Chief Kevin Smith expressed support for the measure.

His department has lost 15 firefighting and five administrative positions in two years, measures that he believed have compromised service.

"Los Angeles County Fire Department could have provided better services than we are able to provide under these present circumstances," says Smith.

The defeat of the measure comes at a time when other Southland cities are struggling with their own budget deficit and looking to consolidate fire services. Last month, the Santa Ana City Council closed its fire department with the decision to allow the Orange County Fire Authority to handle fires and medical calls.

Another city, Costa Mesa, is considering a proposal by the Orange County Fire Authority to take over its emergency services, and Monterey Park has discussed joining the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Cities throughout the state have merged their fire departments with those in neighboring communities or with larger agencies, or are in talks to do so. Officials have one overriding goal: improving the economies of scale so they can cover their cities with lower administrative costs and sometimes fewer firefighters.

Public safety is generally the largest piece of the municipal budget and a fire department may constitute as much as 30% of a city's general fund.

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-- Thomas Curwen

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