Open letter to San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisor’s Chairman Bruce Gibson
July 23, 2014
OPINION By JULIE TACKER
Dear Supervisor Gibson,
Today, during my three minute public comment (for Items not on the agenda) and before you rudely interrupted me, I had intended to bring attention to the campaign season buzz words; “water” and “jobs”.
After suggesting that the county had a “water specialist” in former county Public Works Director, Paavo Ogren, whose $250,000 salary and benefit package at the Oceano Community Services District (OCSD) was setting precedent, I was chided for discussing items “outside the purview of the Board of Supervisors.”
My point, had I been allowed to make it, was that Ogren’s salary in his new job as general manager OCSD affects the county overall. But, you wouldn’t allow that parallel to be made, forcing me to make it here, in this open letter for the benefit of all.
Evidence of the rising salary trend among community services district general managers’ is apparent. The recent $14,000 raise to Nipomo Community Services District General Manager Michael LeBrun, makes him the second highest paid district general manager in the county.
Why does it matter to the county? Who does it hurt? The Ogren salary, with benefits, equates to $1,000 a day. This slap-in-the-face salary hurts the hard working loyal OCSD staff, including Five Cities Fire Authority firefighters, who have foregone raises and cost of living increases to enable the suffering district and fire authority to limp along. Persevering through management abuses and board missteps for nearly a decade the OCSD continues to decline. Moreover, it’s the Oceano ratepayer — the District 4 constituent — who also pays county property tax. This is where county purview comes in.
Funds to pay Ogren’s salary come primarily from OCSD water and sewer fees and then a fraction comes from property tax associated with the fire and lighting budgets. These funds spent on Ogren, prevent the district from providing cost effective services and long overdue infrastructure repairs.
Some 25,000 District 4 residents in Arroyo Grande and Oceano are affected by rising rates. The recent defeat of a fire assessment indicates these ratepayers are strapped. OCSD Board members are on record admitting rate increases are imminent and Arroyo Grande just completed a round of water rate increases. These are the same ratepayers starring at sewer rate increases to cover improvements at the wastewater treatment facility and the state’s $1.1 million fine levied against the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District.
Longtime Oceano residents argue that had the county public works staff, under the direction of Ogren, opened the flap gates of Meadow Creek on that fateful day in Dec. 2010; the 300,000 gallons of untreated sewage may not have spilled into their neighbors’ homes. The county is liable today, as no physical changes have taken place to prevent future flooding leaving the community, especially the “Island” neighborhood and the Sanitation District vulnerable to floodwaters again.
District 4, including the Nipomo boundaries, suffers some of the highest unemployment rates in the county. To give high paying jobs to just a few takes jobs away from others.
Ogren said it best in his parting speech on June 17, “Strong communities makes for strong counties.”
I don’t see District 4 being strong anytime soon. Beat down by higher rates does not instill confidence; it raises the level of expectations. We should hold everyone from the chair of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to the water meter reader accountable for safe services and reliable supplies of water, sewer, street lights, road maintenance, transit, flood control, health and human services.
The ripple effect of liabilities left by Ogren at the county will add to the cost of basic services is in the county’s purview. If you don’t see it that way, perhaps you should spend some time in District 4 and observe a very different perspective than the rose colored glasses you look through from the 4th floor of the county government center.