Downey City Council tackles fire-related issues in Tuesday's meeting

DOWNEY - The future of Downey fire service is up for debate Tuesday night as the City Council decides whether to advance contract negotiations with the Los Angeles County Fire District for fire and emergency services. After months of waiting, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set to approve the preliminary study of county fire service in Downey tomorrow.

The council ordered the feasibility study last July after the Downey Firemen's Association publicly petitioned the city to consider disbanding the city's fire department in order to contract with the county for fire services.

According to a city staff report, the county study will outline the fire district's operational capability, an evaluation of the cost, and a recommendation for proposed staffing in Downey.

If approved by the council, the comprehensive evaluation will cost the city $30,000.

City councilmembers are also expected to adopt a resolution accepting the signature certification of a proposed charter amendment petition submitted by the Downey Firemen's Association in March that would amend the city charter, eliminating the two-thirds voter approval required for Downey to contract out police and fire services.

According to the Downey city clerk's office, the fire association submitted a total of 12,024 signatures, far exceeding the nearly 7,500 signatures, or 15% of the registered voters, needed to place the initiative on the ballot.

Now that the signatures have been verified by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's office, the city council must either adopt the ordinance as is or call for an election, which allows Downey voters to decide the fate of the measure.

Fire union officials say their charter amendment petition is in response to Downey violating its charter by hiring outside EMTs and jailers, exposing Downey taxpayers to potential lawsuits.

However, detractors believe the ballot measure is only meant to strip voters of their voice on matters of public safety by allowing the city council to contract with other local agencies for fire and police services without voter approval.

On Tuesday, the council is expected to order a report on the effect of the proposed initiative in accordance with California election codes.

Council members will discuss the feasibility study and charter amendment petition at City Hall tomorrow during its general meeting at 7:30 p.m.