An ever-present and growing problem in today’s recession economy has been the acquisitive public employee unions and related organizations. The city of Irvine is no stranger to this, particularly when it comes to butting heads with the fittingly ominous-sounding OCFA (Orange County Fire Authority). At issue is Irvine’s relatively large share of the burden (compared to the rest of Orange County) when it comes to funding the OCFA. Of course, the OCFA wants nothing changed; as long as the money keeps coming in, they’ll care about Irvine’s problem as much as Jerry Brown cares about Irvine’s lost 1.4 billion dollars of property taxes.
The Irvine City Council, in its infinite wisdom, recently approved a ‘rebate’ plan to make up for the city’s wild overpayments to the OCFA. Under this plan, the city is expected to receive an estimated $134 million in total rebates through 2030. Sounds good, right? Well, not so fast… according to Assistant City Manager Wally Kruetzen, the city will still wind up overpaying the OCFA $341 million for their services over the next 17 years. Just the fact that these overpayments are acknowledged should flip a switch in someone’s head, right? Apparently, the prevailing thought among most parties involved has been the usual “Let’s make some silly little amendment to this unreasonable setup for now, until we’re long retired and someone sensible takes our job”. The OCFA has become that stubborn in its “status quo” stance.
Consider this: on average across the nation, cities typically spend about HALF as much money on their fire departments than they do on their police departments. Now let’s take a look at Irvine, where MORE money is spent on the fire department than the police department! Is this sensible? Maybe the prudent thing would have been to put this to a vote to its residents. How does an imbalance like this happen? Politics, what else! Due to the byzantine wonderland of California’s property tax system (as well as some rules and regulations that were written before the death of the 2012 Mayan Prophecy,) Irvine taxpayers wind up paying well more than other OC municipalities to keep the OCFA in business. On average, 12.4 percent of Irvine property taxes make their way to the OCFA – shameful!
It’s time to start making sense, as revolutionary as that sounds. Some city officials say Irvine could run its own independent fire department at a cost of only $40 million a year (rather than the $60 million going to the OCFA.) With the predictability of clockwork, OCFA Chief Keith Richter counters that response time and the number of available units would suffer. His argument are invalidated by the fact that Irvine would only have to pay for IRVINE’S fire protection and not have to subsidize the rest of the county, which would then have to pay its fair share for its own fire departments. I know, I know… fairness, independence, accountability; what place do those words have in the way Irvine’s business is done?