The Orange County Fire Authority board of directors postponed its vote on raising some fees to its June 24 meeting, as directors Patricia Bates and Janet Nguyen said they wouldn’t support a budget that included the fee hikes.

The fee increases were proposed to pay for a contracted 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment to non-sworn personnel. The proposed fee hikes, which include raising fees on annual permit inspections and construction reviews, angered some interest groups, including the Building Industry Association of Southern California.

Joe Kerr, president of the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association, was going to offer $170,000 to offset the fee hikes and cover the cost of the salary increases. But because the board postponed its vote, that offer never materialized.

According to discussions last night, the board has until the end of June to pass the budget — otherwise the agency would have to cease operations altogether.

Nguyen and Bates, who are Orange County supervisors, said they could not support the proposed budget because it would be inconsistent with votes on other agency budgets they’ve made this year. Both said hiking fees to make salary increases possible was unacceptable.

“We’re talking about fees that affect unemployed people,” Bates said, which was a reference to the how the fees would affect the building industry. “In good conscience I cannot support this.”

So in hopes of bringing the two directors back into the fold, the board decided to form a ad hoc budget committee to hammer out a budget agreement. The board also wants the committee to come up with ways to chip away at a $14 million deficit projected for fiscal year 2011-12.

The projected deficit loomed heavily on the discussion last night and Director Trish Kelley said she was “horrified” to see it.

The committee is to be composed of all the parties of interest, including the two supervisors, OCFA Chief Keith Richter, the various labor representatives and three other board members. However, it was noted that Nguyen is an alternate for Bill Campbell, so it may be Campbell who would sit on the committee and participate in the final vote June 24.

A similar ad hoc budget committee, formed earlier this year, found $3.3 million in savings, $1.9 million of which was used to bring back a part-time handcrew.


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