Five Cities firefighting costs escalating

February 25, 2014

five cities fireBy JOSH FRIEDMAN

The cities of Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach and the community of Oceano merged their fire departments in 2010 with the intent of saving money, but the resulting Five Cities Fire Authority (FCFA) may soon cost residents more than their original agencies did.

The merger of the three fire departments saves residents of the communities a combined total of approximately $300,000 yearly, according to Five Cities Fire Authority Chief Mike Hubert. But, the Fire Authority is currently asking voters to adopt an assessment fee totaling more than $1 million annually.

“The ballot measure is for increased services,” Hubert said when asked how the FCFA would continue to save residents money.

Hubert also said that he conservatively estimated the annual savings created by the 2010 merger and that the individual cities estimated more in savings.

If adopted, the assessment will impose a $66 fee on all properties in the three communities. The fee can increase annually due to a 4 percent cost of living adjustment built into the assessment.

The FCFA board would determine each year whether to grant the 4 percent increase. The board consists of a representative of both the Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach city councils and the Oceano Community Services District board. Currently, Arroyo Grande Councilman Joe Costello, Grover Beach Council Bill Nichols and Oceano CSD director Karen White sit on the board.

Upon creation in 2010, the fire authority had a budget of under $3.4 million. Within two years, the budget increased nearly $1 million to more than $4.3 million. If the assessment passes, the budget will likely rise above $4.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

Critics equate the proposed assessment to a bailout because the fire authority is asking the public to replace one-time funds used to hire firefighters.

In 2012, the FCFA obtained a two-year, $1.2 million grant from FEMA. While applying for the grant, the fire authority understated its revenue from its three partner agencies, according to city and community service district financial statements.

The FCFA then used the grant to hire six firefighters. The grant expires in September, and the fire authority says it needs the assessment in order to retain the firefighters.

“We’d like to keep that personnel,” Hubert said.

The FCFA also needs to replace a fire engine and other old equipment, according to an engineer’s report on the assessment. If the assessment passes, the agency is likewise promising an improved dispatch system.

Critics of the fire authority’s financial management also allege that the agency is campaigning for the assessment to pass. The FCFA mailed five-page booklets along with all ballots earlier this month that include pictures of firefighters at work and a statement on why the funding measure is necessary.

The fire authority also created a Facebook page last summer, which it has used to promote the proposed assessment.

Prior to the distribution of the ballots, Arroyo Grande resident Otis Page submitted an opposition statement to the ballot measure and asked Hubert to include it in the mailers to property

“It is consistent with fair practices that pro and con statements are normally attending any issues of grave importance to the citizens,” Page wrote to Hubert.

The fire authority’s counsel said there was no reason to include an opposition statement, Hubert said.

Critics also accuse the agency of having pressured its board into placing the proposed assessment on the ballot. About 25 firefighters showed up in uniform to a late December board meeting on the assessment.

“You have a whole bunch of guys in uniform who you don’t want to tell no, looking at you,” said Los Osos resident Julie Tacker. “I think it’s intimidating for board members.”

Property owners in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano received the assessment ballots earlier this month. They have until April 4 to turn in the ballots. A majority vote will determine whether or not the assessment passes.


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I remember no too long ago AGFD was a volunteer fire dept. Somehow they were able to handle all of the fires, or lack thereof. The volunteers had regular jobs and loved fighting fires when they were needed. Arroyo Grande never had any “infernos” that got out-of-control on their watch. So, why do we need all of these fireman and fancy equipment? Their primary job is to wash and wax the trucks, workout, watch TV and collect a fat check!

Next thing you know is that their Union will demand that someone is provided to make their beds and clean their sheets. Whatever happened to the Fireman that mowed the lawn at the firehouse, went out and painted red curbs and the fire hydrants?

They still do that.

So ignorant. The fire department goes on every medical call, not just fires. If it is a good department, they will have firefighter/paramedics on the engines and most of the time the fire department shows up before the privately owned ambulance. Honestly.

Not ignorant. The respond to EVERY medical call to justify their existence. When possible cuts come up every year, they present to the council that they have responded to hundreds of “calls”, and that if anything they need more fireman, equipment and money. Even though the majority of these calls are following San Luis Ambulance to a little, old lady’s house who had a dizzy spell. Case in point, I had a friend who lived directly behind the Shell Beach station. One day, he smelled gas, and walked across the street and told the men at the station. They hopped in their truck, pulled out of the driveway that is literally 20 feet from my friend’s driveway and drove around the entire block to his house, so it would be classified as a “call”. Why couldn’t one of them just walk across the street to check it out?

First, at lest in SLO, it’s SLO Ambulance who is following the fire department to calls. 9 out of 10 times the fire department arrives first, a lot of times by several minutes. The citizens of SLO pay for top notch service and that is what we get. Paramedics, Haz-Mat specialists, Urban Search and Rescue members etc. If I get injured in SLO City, I know I will be getting the best and I am willing to pay for it.

The firefighters need to have all of thier gear with them when they go on any call, wether it is next door or 5 blocks away. Thier gear is on the engine therefore the engine must go with them. Your friend smelled gas, well that’s great but the firefighters don’t know what they are going to encounter when they go over there so they have to be PREPARED….it’s part of the job!

When is enough, enough? Anytime we hear of a financial crisis for a city it”s always seems that the firefighters are at the top of the list for always wanting more and wanting it bigger. Just look at the SLO City FD with their hook and ladder and the Atascadero FD snorkle truck. Here we have a group of people who are being paid 1/3 of their salary for sleeping and probably another 20% of their pay watching TV and out buying groceries and ice cream deserts.

Unfortunately our local firefighters are trailing on the shirt tails of firefighters in large metro cities like L.A., N.Y., Chicago etc. who actually do go to fires on a regular basis and are exposed to dangerous situations daily. Here locally our firefighters may see a couple of structure fires a year, dumpster fires, car fires and brush fires. At the same time they are always wanting more and more. Or while sitting around the firehouse they are masters at manipulating schedules in order to gain from overtime shifts. This is nothing new, it’s just part of the culture for firefighters. But then if I had the opportunity to use the system I too would probably do the same. So what is the answer to solve the problem. Plain and simple is to find politicians that have the guts to stand up to them instead of kissing their asses for endorsements at election time.

The real answer for the Five Cities situation is to just contract out to the California Division of Forestry, then we can hear the real crying.

Mr. Holly, you should really do yourself a favor and go on a ride a long with SLO City Fire. Maybe then you won’t give them a hard time for taking 15 minutes out of thier day to stop by a grocery store so they can cook thier dinner.

If a policeman did that they would probably dock his pay or give him days off. The bottom line is that the local firefighters are really over glorified. And may I say that I have had experience with ride alongs and observations of their day at work.

Policeman are not allowed to eat while on duty? Are you allowed to eat while you work? It sounds like you are just jealous of firefighters for some reason, I just don’t get it. What did you “observe” them doing during your ride a long and their day at work?

That’s pretty simple:

1.Check lights and siren on trucks.

2,Workout for an hour or so.

3.Start preparing lunch.

4,Respond to a lift assist.

5.Shop for dinner.

6.Prepare dinner.

7.Watch the evening news.

8.Go out for ice cream

9.Respond to dumpster fire. Sound the alarm so off duty firefighters will get a 2hr. pay for call back. PD put fire out before FD arrived.

10.Watch TV until bedtime.

Mr. Holly, that’s pathetic and you know it’s not true. I’m starting to think you have tried to be a firefighter and could not cut it. Sorry not sorry.

I own and live in AG and I never received an assessment ballot – how does one obtain a replacement?

You weren’t supposed to get a ballot becasue clearly you either checked the wrong “party” box on your voter registration or you’re on the “Do Not Send Ballot” list. What have you been up too?

Contact the FCFA Headquarters at 805-473-5490 – you will probably need your property’s Assessor Parcel Number or address.

I want more money, I need to buy a new boat, a second home, pay alimony to my third wife – enough! It is cheaper for society to let homes burn and then allow people to collect the insurance money. Fires only comprise a small portion of the incidents fire fighters respond to. They mostly show up at car accidents in case their is an injury that needs attention. By the way, where can you find a few hundred millionaires camping – at any forest fire. Local firefighters make up to 3 x what CDF personnel do.

I don’t know where to start but here’s a go..

1) Tacker sits on the Los Osos CSD Emergency Services Advisory Committee…this community “taxes” itself for enhanced fire response….someone explain why she would be opposed?

2) We have become a society of, “I want it, and I shouldn’t have to pay more for it,” my mother would call it being “entitled.” Whether a structure fire or a medical emergency, you would never imagine how “people intensive” it is to provide quality service to someone in need (taking an elderly patient down a flight of stairs, working a cardiac arrest call, etc.).

I for one think they have been pretty proactive for government, they have already completed pension reform, sold off equipment they didn’t need…

Didn’t your parents teach you there are always two sides to a story? :)

Ask questions before you vote, don’t be swayed by me or the naysayers. The beauty of living here is that you can actually do your own fact finding!

Peace out.

Yes, I am on the Los Osos Emergency Services Advisory Committee.

Yes, Los Osos does pay a fire tax.

The fire tax in Los Osos differs greatly from that proposed by FCFA. Los Osos has a higher level of service than that at FCFA. FCFA has not considered bringing in CalFire to see if they could do the same job for less money, this has been what I have been advocating the FCFA Board do; get a quote for service from CalFire, saving the raatepayer money.

Los Osos enjoys its relationship with CalFire and has since 2004.

Los Osos attempted a fire tax that failed in early 2004, immediately thereafter our Board asked CalFire for a quote and was able to get more service for less money and signed contract in October 2004.

A year later we wanted an even higher level of service and taxed ourselves through a Special Fire Tax needing 2/3 majority of all registered voters to pass, not an assessment district needing 50%+1 of property owners only. Our tax has a CPI that is based on the California index.

FCFA voters need to know a few things: Your vote will be public record. You have the right to change your vote all the way up until the April 4 public hearing and this assessment will come in perpetuity with a 4% CPI that is imminent, having the ability to go above the accepted annual CPI index if it is set below 4% if the FCFA Board chooses. This will make the $66 per residence $94 by year ten. Just want you all to be very aware.

Firefighters have become some of the wealthiest members of our community. And they continue to ask for more money. Firefighters used to be honorable citizens, nowadays they mostly seem to be about the money. It is time to just so NO to more money.

Really, they have a lot of nerve going to the rate payers for more money for the fire authority.

Their fire-fighting infrastructure (specifically, fire hydrants) has been allowed to go without basic maintenance for a decade at least. That means that, when a firefighter goes to access a fire hydrant to fight a fire, the valve may very well be frozen or may break off.

This is serious stuff here. People could die because firefighters don’t have even the basic support they need to fight a fire. Firefighters could be injured if the hydrant malfunctions.

So it doesn’t do much good for OCSD to fork out more money for firefighting services when they should first be bringing the infrastructure up to date.

Is this not a perfect example of how to grow a governmental bureaucracy, knowing all the while that it will cost more, require more resources, and become less efficient over time?

Simply, “NO”, we are taxed enough, start cutting salaries and benefits first

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