From Bryan Nelson
Orange County Commissioner, District 2
As elected officials, our most solemn responsibility is to ensure public safety. And at Orange County, we’re focusing your hard-earned tax dollars on exactly that.
Consider this: More than half of Orange County’s proposed 2017-18 operating budget – 54 percent, to be precise – is devoted to our public-safety agencies, such as the Sheriff’s Office, Orange County Fire Rescue, and Emergency Management. Even as we hold the line on operating expenses in many departments, we’re making sure to give our first responders the tools they need to protect our community.
For example, the 2017-18 Orange County spending plan boosts the Orange County Sheriff’s Office’s budget by 8.3 percent to $234.3 million. The extra money will help the sheriff’s office get ahead of our growing population and booming tourism business, by putting another 42 patrol deputies out on our streets and adding another 13 civilian personnel, including four more school resource officers, an extra crime-scene investigator, and another victim advocate. The money will also pay for well-earned raises and allow the sheriff’s office, which has more than 2,100 employees, to boost starting deputy pay by about $5,000 a year, ensuring the agency continues to attract the best, most qualified candidates.
At the same time, we’re bumping our Fire Rescue budget by 8.6 percent to $172.1 million to add personnel, expand coverage and reduce response times. With the extra money, our fire department will be able to hire another 36 firefighter paramedics, four engineer paramedics, four lieutenant paramedics and three fire-planning support staffers. With the additional boots on the ground, Orange County Fire Rescue will be able to open a new station and expand three existing stations to 24-hour coverage.
Altogether, that’s more than $400 million just on police and fire!
It’s not just about adding more people – it’s also about improving the training and tools we provide to them.
That’s why our Sheriff’s Office budget includes $2.6 million to build a new K-9 facility, $2.5 million to improve our computer-dispatch system and even $270,000 to make security improvements to the Sheriff’s Office’s headquarters at West Colonial Drive and John Young Parkway. And our Fire Rescue budget has money to replace emergency-response vehicles, give firefighters more bunker gear, install automated patient-loading systems in ambulances, add aerial drones to our fire-fighting fleet and make improvements at the Orange County emergency operations center. We’re even replacing the electronic door-locking system at the Orange County jail and putting $500,000 into a community Vivitrol program to stop addiction cravings.
We’re also thinking long-term: Our budget sets aside $1 million, along with $5 million set aside last year from the Invest Program, toward a future, regional fire-rescue training center at Valencia College and more than $8 million toward the construction of three new fire stations and the renovation of four existing ones.
These investments benefit us all. You may have heard earlier this year that the Insurance Service Office, which evaluates the effectiveness of public fire protection in more than 46,000 cities and counties around the country, recently completed a review of Orange County Fire Rescue. After the review was done, the ISO awarded our county a “Class 1” rating – the highest rating possible and one that puts Orange County in the top 1 percent of all fire departments across the country. This was a huge leap. We went from a Class 4 to a Class 1 rating.
And here’s the best part: Property insurance companies review a community’s ISO rating when determining how much to charge their consumers. So a higher ISO rating for Orange County Fire Rescue could mean lower insurance prices for Orange County residents!
Next week, I’ll tell you even more about the new Orange County budget, including what we’re doing to keep our economy strong and to support important community institutions.