Should Los Osos be managed by the county?
September 4, 2014
OPINION By TOM SALMON
The Los Osos Community Services District (LOCSD) has proven to be a failed experiment. Formed in 1998 under the guise of obtaining “local control” the LOCSD has been whittled down to a shell of its former self. With powers sold off and stripped away it leaves Los Osos residents asking “why don’t we just go back to the county?”
When the first fledgling board formed they chose latent powers as incorporated into their Mission Statement here: “The Los Osos Community Services District shall provide the best possible services to the community of Los Osos including water, wastewater, drainage, parks, recreation, street lighting, solid waste, fire emergency and rescue response. The Board of Directors and staff shall respond with excellence to meet the community’s needs and desires. The Board shall encourage community participation in its decision-making and shall facilitate the interaction between the community and other agencies and levels of government.”
The first departure from local control came when the district voluntarily contracted with Cal Fire; handing over the reins and management of the fire department to its qualified personnel. The district continues to benefit from the economies of scale Cal Fire can provide, yet robs the fire fund of over $100,000 a year each year for “administrative services” the district provides the department.
Additionally, a misstep when the ‘Move the Sewer’ board allowed their interim general manager to commingle fire funds with sewer funds. Taking responsibility and preventing that from ever happening again, the board took proactive steps to let the county make the district’s semi-annual payment to Cal Fire from general property tax collected. This check is cut prior to the CSD’s remaining tax allocation to use for “services the district provides.”
“Services the district provides” is in quotes, meant to sarcastically point out that the district “provides” very little in the way of “services” with the monies collected.
In 2007 the wastewater project was stripped away via special legislation, aka “AB2701,” leaving the district to “service” to two small community septic systems. These systems were never intended to treat sewage for over 40 years and continue to limp along in anticipation of the County’s completion of the out of town sewer project. Both these systems are operating at a financial deficit, propped up by inter-fund loans being made until the County’s project comes on line. Both funds contribute significant amounts to the district’s administration, leaving little funds to operate these systems.
The street light “service” in Cabrillo Estates is “provided” by the LOCSD, yet the tax collected doesn’t cover the expense of the “service” so lighting has been shut off. What lights are left on are so old they were built without switches or the adjoining neighbor has made an agreement directly with PG&E to pay to leave their light on.
Of the $95,000 in drainage tax we pay each year nearly $40,000 goes to fund administration. As it turns out the County hadn’t transferred all drainage facilities as expected and monies have been spent maintaining facilities that were not the LOCSD’s. Very little of what’s left goes to on the ground drainage improvements.
The district has never had revenue to fund Parks & Recreation. It has over $300,000 affectionately known as the “Pool Fund” safely housed at the SLO Community Foundation where it’s generating interest to do nothing. The funds were collected as part of a Special Tax for parks (not necessarily a pool) in 1997. The vote was overturned by the passage of Proposition 218 that required a 2/3 majority of voters to support the taxation. Rather than return the funds to each parcel, the funds have been held with no public discussion as to what to do with them .
The latest and most devastating blow to the district was the sale of the solid waste franchise to the county to cover bankruptcy debt. Without the $160,000 revenue it brought and its nearly $60,000 administrative contribution, the remaining LOCSD funds accounts will have to pick up the slack by contributing more to the overstaffed district.
What’s left? The water district only serves 2,755 customers; while Golden State Water, S&T Mutual and private wells (combined) serve the majority of the community its water. Additionally, the water company is being subsided by $180,000 in general property tax each year. This subsidy, combined with nearly $1.9 million in water sales, constitutes the bulk of the district’s income. Of this income, over $550,000 goes to administration and legal costs.
While I bristle at the thought of the county managing our services, it couldn’t be worse than the LOCSD and certainly would cost less.