By Christopher Yee | | San Gabriel Valley Tribune

PUBLISHED: October 23, 2019 at 1:34 pm | UPDATED: October 23, 2019 at 5:44 pm

San Gabriel Valley cities are very quickly expressing support for a Los Angeles County Fire Department parcel tax that could appear on a 2020 ballot.

County fire can not fund its $1.4 billion in infrastructure needs, said Debra Aguirre, the department’s chief of staff. Voters last approved a parcel tax the department brought forth in 1997. It expired in 2017. An effort to extend it that same year failed.

County fire has not committed yet to putting the parcel tax, which would ask between six and nine cents per square foot, before voters and has not sought approval yet from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to move ahead.

Eleven of the more than 50 cities that contract with the county for fire services get a say in whether or not to participate in the tax measure. Based on their contracts, these so-called “fee-for-service” cities — which pay for county fire services out of their general funds instead of via property taxes like the 40 other cities do — can choose whether to include the parcel tax on their local ballots.

The fee-for-service cities include Azusa, Commerce, Covina, El Monte, Gardena, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Inglewood, Lynwood, Palos Verdes Estates and Pomona. County fire also contracts with La Habra, which is in Orange County and would not be part of the Los Angeles County parcel tax.

As of Monday, elected officials in Azusa, Covina, and Pomona have all taken positions of support for the parcel tax, which may appear on the March or November ballot. The El Monte City Council received information about the potential parcel tax last week but did not vote.

“For me, the key point is to allow the voters to decide on this,” Azusa Mayor Joe Rocha said. “Even if we decide to opt-in, that doesn’t mean it will pass. We just need to allow Azusa residents to vote and say yay or nay.”

Should “fee-for-service” cities opt to let their residents vote on the parcel tax and the tax passes, the money generated locally would stay local, Aguirre has said.

For Azusa, a parcel tax could generate between $1.4 million and $2 million for station upgrades, equipment, staffing and would reduce the city’s fire service cost, City Manager Sergio Gonzalez said.

When the Covina City Council discussed the possible parcel tax last week, several members of the council said they were hesitant to support any new taxes given all the ways that residents are taxed already.

“I’m just tired of it,” Councilman Jorge Marquez said.

A parcel tax in Covina would raise between $1.8 million and $2.7 million, City Manager Brian Saeki said.

Covina voters approved a three-quarter cent sales tax increase, taking the sales tax rate in the city to the state’s maximum, in November 2018.

Initially, no Covina council member was willing to move that the council support a county fire parcel tax. However, because no action would have been an effective no, the City Council reopened the discussion and voted 4-1, with Marquez opposed, to support a parcel tax should county fire move ahead.

County fire and the Board of Supervisors must make a final decision by Dec. 3 to meet the deadline for the parcel tax measure to appear on the March ballot, Aguirre has said.

Outside of the San Gabriel Valley, Hawthorne, and Hermosa Beach also have expressed support for a parcel tax.