Orange County Fire Authority Board Raises Budget Concerns

May 28, 2021 Updated: May 30, 2021

The Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) board of directors postponed approving its annual budget after “very serious concerns” emerged during a May 27 budget hearing.

Unanswered questions about some of the items the proposed 2021–22 fiscal budget includes prompted the board to postpone its approval until its next meeting.

“It was a surprise to me and unprecedented in my experience that a board would in fact refuse to pass a budget and ask for more information and more policy discussion,” Director Don Wagner told The Epoch Times.

The board is expected to receive an updated budget during its next meeting on June 24; the budget and finance committee is seeking more information on the financial blueprint.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she wasn’t pleased with OCFA’s decision to budget more money for a law firm.

She said OCFA has paid an attorney more than $40,000 in travel time between Los Angeles and Irvine over a three-year period—a much higher amount than the standard IRS prevailing rate of $0.58 per mile.

“I just think that is flat out wrong,” Bartlett told The Epoch Times. “I’m not going to approve a budget that has those kinds of things built into it.”

The board voted 19–2 to eliminate special procurements, which are awards given to companies that don’t need to undergo a public bidding process. It can also be awarded by the chief procurement officer without board approval if it’s less than $50,000, or $150,000 over a three-year period.

Bartlett said special procurements have been created by the OCFA to avoid calling these contracts a sole source, since that name triggers a “red flag.”

“The sole source just tends to raise a number of red flags, because normally contracts go through a procurement process,” she said. “There has to be very extenuating circumstances to picking just one vendor and not going through an open procurement process.”

Special procurements averaged more than $500,000 per contract over the last fiscal year, according to the OCFA.

Wagner said he was “dissatisfied” with the budget presentation and had many questions that went unanswered.

OCFA management contracted an ambulance consulting company under a special procurement that Wagner said was inappropriate.

“It either should have satisfied the requirements for a sole source contract, or we should have put it out to bid,” he said.

He said the contract didn’t qualify for a special procurement because there was “no time of the essence” provision and therefore it didn’t satisfy the contracting rules.

In a sole source contract, staff can engage in a contract with a company without going to a public bid and finding the lowest responsible bidder.

Reasons to qualify for a sole source contract include the company being the only one that can perform the contract, the “time is of the essence” clause, and more.

Wagner said he expects the board to approve the budget at the next meeting, as the new fiscal year begins July 1.

“Let’s get answers to these questions before we approve this budget for the next year.”

Chairman David Shawver voted against the continuance of the budget because the board can make modifications throughout the year.

“If we have to amend our budget, we can do it at any time,” he said during the May 27 board meeting.