Oceano’s non-existent general fund
May 4, 2013
By JULIE TACKER
In the wake of the termination of General Manager, Tom Geaslen, the Oceano Community Services District is fielding questions from ratepayers and activists for spending district funds to advance a Cinco de Mayo celebration and a farmers’ market in the seaside community.
As a longtime Geaslen critic and informed countywide activist, I have repeatedly explained to the district board that the district is not a chamber of commerce or service club; it’s a government agency formed to provide vital services to the community, contrary to Geaslen’s philosophy.
The district is primarily made up of enterprise funds, enterprise activities are financed entirely or predominantly by user fees set at a level to cover costs to provide services such as water, sewer and street lighting. The district also collects property tax, some of which is retained for administrative costs, but the majority is passed through to the Five Cities Fire Authority for Oceano’s share of cost for fire and emergency services. All funds received by the district are “designated”– leaving very little discretion as to how they are spent.
Unfortunately, the current board was misled by Geaslen’s inexperience, incompetence and unwillingness to learn the ins and outs of special districts. The district has no “general fund” for discretionary use.
Last fall the board and community became engaged in a San Luis Obispo County/Cal Trans “Revitalization” planning process for Oceano’s Highway 1 downtown corridor. The enthusiasm led to overwhelming support to start a Farmers’ Market.
A committee was formed by the OCSD under the guise of the OCSD Parks and Recreation latent power, an authority that has been dormant due to lack of funding for some time. The committee, made up of passionate volunteers, has met at least twice monthly hoping to open their market this spring. The committee’s ideas morphed to include events to be held in conjunction with the market some four times a year, the first being a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
With Geaslen at the helm, repeated assurances were made that “underwriters, grants, personal contributions, from him and Supervisor Teixeira,” were forthcoming and worries about funding were unnecessary, he had it “handled.” Asserting his political prowess, Geaslen said, “You know the network I run with and I all need to do is say, hey, I’m trying to do this. I’ve never been turned down for support before.”
Having some success Geaslen asked for and received a fee waiver for nearly $5,000 by the county planning department for the districts minor use permit for use the Oceano Community Center property for the market and events. Geaslen went to his board for $5,000 in seed money to fund insurance and incidentals including, promotional materials, legal oversight and licensing.
When asked where the $5,000 would come from Geaslen explained that since the Five Cities Fire Authority was established in 2010, saving the district money, that revenue from renting the districts old fire station for community uses was “excess taxes.”
Hearing him use the phrase “excess taxes” on several occasions, I cringed and pictured anti-tax activist Howard Jarvis is rolling in his grave. There is no such thing as “excess taxes” and if there were, any such excess must benefit the taxpayers by either reducing taxes and/or applying funds to benefit the intent from which came.
The rental revenue from the old fire station must be put towards maintaining the fire buildings, reducing costs to the taxpayer, or applied to increasing the level of fire services. Alternatively, any “excess funds” should be kept in a restricted sinking fund to accumulate for necessary improvements of the fire facilities. If these funds are not needed for building repair and maintenance, in light of the fact the fire authority is looking to impose a fire tax it would be prudent to contribute any “excess” to defray the increase as it applies to Oceano.
When the dust began to settle after Geaslen’s abrupt departure and May 5 rapidly approaching, it became abundantly clear that little, to no, work had been done on the Cinco de Mayo celebration. At which point, committee members rallied, reaching out the Latino Outreach Council, where they obtained $1,000, together have put the wheels in motion to overcome the broken promises. The celebration will take place Sunday, May 5, at the Oceano Community Center from 4:00-6:00pm, with strolling mariachis, delicious food, face painting and information on the community’s upcoming certified farmers market, all are invited.
The district was warned not use public funds this way, yet they have allocated a total of $6,442 to start up farmers’ market and the Cinco de Mayo celebration.
In an attempt to make things right, I have requested that directors forego their stipends for a time to fund Cinco de Mayo and the monies advanced to farmers’ market be restructured into a loan. Once up and running the market should do well, with the ability to repay the fund from which the money came.
Sadly, this is just one of the messes left by Geaslen; the OCSD board will spend a significant amount of time and money cleaning it and others up. Any challenge to recover these misspent funds will cost more in legal fees than the funds at issue. It is my hope the board will find it in their hearts to make things right and move swiftly on to more important things, like repairing infrastructure and find a suitable general manager with experience and expertise in special districts.