After its abrupt closure in June, Fire Station 9 could be handed a lifeline Tuesday night when the Long Beach City Council will vote on the city’s annual budget, which could include funding for a temporary fire station to serve the Los Cerritos and uptown areas of the city.
An op-ed co-authored over the weekend by City Council members Stacy Mungo and Al Austin, both of whom are members of the city’s Budget Oversight Committee, called for the full council to consider allocating Measure A funds to quickly reopen the station.
Mungo and Austin asked the City Council to approve $1.56 million to fund a temporary fire station while the city looks to build a permanent one to replace the aging building that became unusable because of mold problems.
The council members are also requesting $6.2 million in future Measure A revenue to go toward a new permanent station. The cost of building one is estimated to run between $13 million and $20 million—not including the money needed to create the temporary station—and it could take as long as three years to complete. Beyond the Measure A funding they’re requesting, it’s unclear where the rest of the money for construction would come from.
Austin and Mungo said moving the money to get the temporary station reopened back its home neighborhood was a priority for the committee. Since the closure, crews who worked out of Station 9 have been relocated to other firehouses.
“This City Council has prioritized and funded many public safety restorations that were cut during the recession, and we recognize that the Fire Department works as one citywide system,” they wrote in their op-ed. “When there is a disruption to that system, it can affect services throughout the City.”
The station was shuttered earlier this year because of a recurring mold issues. The mold was first discovered in December 2017 and treated at a cost of about $210,000. When more was found in June, employees were relocated to Station 13 in West Long Beach and to Station 16 located near Long Beach Airport, which department officials said has increased response times to certain parts of city.
While a temporary station could be completed in as little as 160 days, building a permanent station could take as long as three years according to a memo City Manager Pat West sent to the mayor and City Council. The temporary station is expected to be completed on the current parcel of land where Station 9 is.
The memo states that the city has already reached out to an architect regarding a new permanent station and that design costs could cost as much as $1 million and take a year to complete. Construction of the station, depending on size and scope, could take another 18 months to two years.
Such a large contribution from Measure A funding to build a new station could impact other future projects that were in line to receive Measure A funding West said.
“Given the number of high-priority projects and services in the city, this will require some difficult choices on behalf of the City Council,” West wrote in his memo.
A vote to potentially allocate this money to Station 9 is expected to happen Tuesday, Sept. 3, when the City Council is scheduled to vote on a $2.8 billion budget package to fund the city for the 2020 fiscal year.
If the council does approve the recommendation, it would mark the second time in as many months that it allocated funding to aid the city’s firefighting infrastructure.
In August a city memo announced that Engine 17, which previously served the Traffic Circle area and was closed due to cuts during the 2012 budget cycle, would be restored.
Nearly $6 million in surplus funds generated by the Measure A sales-tax were identified to pay for Engine 17 over the next two years, but a permanent source of funding would still have to be sought by future City Councils.
That funding source could come from a permanent extension of Measure A, which was originally set to be phased out 10 years after voters approved it in 2016. The revenue generated by the tax has reportedly been about $60 million annually over its first few full years of implementation, which has allowed the city to address failing streets, infrastructure and bolster its police and fire departments.
The City Council voted in June to place a permanent extension of the tax, which has tacked on 1% to the city’s sales-tax rate and made Long Beach one of a growing list of cities that have reached the upper limit of allowable local taxes, onto the March ballot. Passage of the extension would require a simple majority of votes in favor of it.
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