Proposition 13 to Affect All Fire Departments
The Editor’s Opinion Page
California’s Proposition 13, which was passed in June of last year, limited property taxes to 1 percent of market value and generated forecasts of large layoffs of public employees and major cutbacks of services. The forecasts for fiscal 1978-1979 proved wrong, however, since the state bailed out the municipalities with surplus funds. But what of the fiscal year 1979-1980 and beyond?
According to our California correspondent (page 24), “the majority of municipal fire agencies foresee no major cutbacks, but do believe that capital construction and acquisition of apparatus will be seriously curtailed.”
We are sure that the reply to this statement in some states will be “so what’s new?” But for a lot of states, the Proposition 13 philosophy has only just begun. This philosophy in essence calls for a cut in all taxes, but particularly property taxes. And since public services in the main are supported by property taxes, we can only foreseee a reduction in the money allotted to fire departments—already the low men on the fiscal totem pole.
So what can be done about it? Perhaps the philosophy for the fire service has already been expressed by the chief of Kern County, Calif., who feels that “property taxes should be used first for property-related services and I feel there is nothing more closely related to these taxes than the fire protection given by this department.”
This philosophy, of course, has to be gotten over to the public. But in the meantime, something has to be done to support the fire service now. What the California departments did offers a model for those states and communities which will be facing their own Proposition 13s in the coming months.
Several of these departments are attempting to develop new sources of income related to fire prevention and rescue/emergency medical services. The user-fee plan was the first that cropped up. An example of this plan is the one adopted by the Inglewood City Council in which the user in a fire-flow formula pays 52 cents per gallon per minute.
Rialto, another California department, offers its citizens emergency medical services for an annual (voluntary) fee. Still other departments have either introduced or increased fees for the various fire prevention inspections and permits.
Proposition 13 will unquestionably have a rippling and farreaching effect on this country and its fire service. Departments not touched as yet had better be prepared.