Fire authority blames voters for parcel tax failure
April 19, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
After 60 percent of voters rejected a parcel tax initiative for firefighting services, the Five Cities Fire Authority (FCFA) took to Facebook to blame its fiscal woes on South County property owners.
On Friday, the votes were tallied. Property owners in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano voted 59.6 percent against the $1 million-a-year property assessment measure and 40.3 percent in favor of it.
The FCFA said the ballot initiative would increase services, but the fire authority is now saying that voters cost six firefighters their jobs.
“Today, property owners in the Five Cities voted overwhelmingly to eliminate six firefighter positions and stated their preference to have fewer personnel respond to fires, accidents and calls for medical aid,” the FCFA wrote on its Facebook page. “It is hard to understand how fewer firefighters, older engines and worn equipment comprises a formula for success.”
Attached to the Facebook post, the FCFA placed a photo of a fireman battling a fire from the roof of a burning house.
“I think he’s worth $10 an hour,” the FCFA wrote.
In 2010, the FCFA formed when Arroyo Grande, Gover Beach and Oceano chose to consolidate their fire departments into one. The consolidation of the agencies was supposed to be a cost saving move.
But, the FCFA budget rose from $3.4 million to $4.3 million in its first two years of operation.
In 2012, the FCFA applied for a FEMA grant, which it received, and used the one-time funds to hire the six firefighters. The funds expire later this year.
Critics of the agency called the ballot measure a bailout for its decision to hire the firefighters without future funding secured.
Fire Chief Mike Hubert said funds from the assessment would go toward equipment, apparatus and dispatch services, as well as to staffing costs. Hubert told CalCoastNews before the vote that, although he’d like to keep the firefighters, they are classified as additional personnel, not necessary for the FCFA to function.
“At least the community got additional personnel for that period of time,” Hubert said.
The FCFA may, again, apply for the FEMA grant in order to retain the firefighters. “That’s not guaranteed to work, though,” Hubert said.
Had the parcel tax passed, property owners in the area would have received a $66 annual assessment. The assessment could increase four percent annually because of a cost of living adjustment built into it.
A three-member board, which governs the FCFA, now must sort out the agency’s financial troubles as it prepares a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The board consists of a representative from the Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach city councils, as well as one from the Oceano Community Services District board.
Arroyo Grande Councilman Joe Costello, Grover Beach Councilman Bill Nichols and Oceano CSD director Karen White currently comprise the FCFA board.