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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As a citizen of Arroyo Grande, I am very pleased with the services that the Five Cities Fire Authority provide. I unfortunately had need for the firefighters this year when we had an emergency and they were prompt, courteous, and effective at their jobs. I appreciate the men and women who serve our community as firefighters, police officers, and EMTs. I know they make a small modest wage risking their lives to protect us, the public. I know several of these brave people that live in our community and I find it offensive that you are attacking them. How dare you pick on our public servants! I want to say thank you to the Five Cities Fire Department for doing a superb job! And if you need me to pay $66 dollars a year so that 6 men do not loose their jobs and you can replace broken equipment…that is good with me.

No one is saying the firemen aren’t anything but great guys doing great service, it’s the approach taken by the merger that is at issue. The $66 this year will be $69 next year and $72 the year after that and $75 the next and going up 4% forever. The property owner only vote is weighted by property type and size, the more property you have the bigger the vote (and the more you pay each year). The detailed conversation simply wasn’t had at the member agencies adequately for the public to participate fully before sending out the ballots.

What could CalFire do for the rates, they would absorb the FCFA staff into their statewide system giving the guys incredible opportunities to advance and train all over the state. The BOD never asked for this simple “apples to apples” comparison and went straight for your wallet.

The City of AG has a well-maintained fire-fighting infrastructure. OCSD does not .

With equipment, such as fire hydrants, which have not been maintained in ten years, it is “throwing good money after bad” to invest any more funds in firefighting personnel until the OCSD infrastructure is brought back into safe operating condition.

Fire hydrants should be assessed and “exercised” yearly. If this doesn’t’t occur, there is a risk (which increases over years that the hydrants have not been assessed and exercised) that when a firefighter responds to fire and attempts to use the hydrant that the valve will break (or otherwise fail), possibly injuring the firefighter. Needless to say, firefighters would be hard pressed to fight a fire without access to water.

Lives can be lost if a fire worsens because there is no access to hydrant water to fight the fire. Some of these lives could be firefighters as, frustrated by not having access to the infrastructure they need to safely fight a fire, they resort to more risky strategies in order to save lives of the people they have been entrusted to protect from burning to death.

OCSD is putting the horse before the cart when they seek to encumbered rate payers with an expensive firefighting personnel when they allow the firefighting infrastructure of their district to crumble because of lack of simple maintenance.

Bring the infrastructure up to maintenance compliance and dependable operability…THEN worry about having firefighters to operate it.

The firefighters are sure racking up tons of paid overtime. It’s posted at Arroyo Grande Council Agenda under Cash Disbursement Ratification of the consent agenda. $9388.20 for two weeks!!!! Fire fighters make bank in AG!!

They should do what they did in Los Osos, 7 months after selling my house, I got a retroactive bill for $125 for the year prior to selling my house. Can’t beat the government for money making.

The Process…..

Is it fair to have Proportional Voting, where one person’s vote counts more than another.

Depending on value of property.

Renters are denied the Right To Vote. They will certainly have their Rents Increase.

What happened to the cornerstone of democracy, one person , one vote.

We should all be concerned with this tax and vote process.

Fair and Balanced Taxation

Should a person with a One Million Dollar House pay the same Tax as a person living on a fixed income in a small cottage.

Taxation Without Representation

The Federal Grant should have never been used to hire more full time employees.

It is common financial practice to use these funds for one time expenditures, like the purchase of equipment. This mismanagement is on their watch.

The last thing we need to do is hire more full time staff at this time.

Governor Brown, recently stated that it will take four decades of increasing taxes just to make the state pension system solvent ! When you have the current unsustainable compensation levels, benefits, and early 100% retirements, you create a structural financial problem that becomes a tax burden we cannot afford.

As we have seen, this problem has led more and more cities into bankruptcy and places all Taxpayers At Risk. It looks like the problem has grown so big that we will probably have a Pension Reform Measure on the ballot.

Taxation Without Representation

The Big Lie……

If you review the board minutes after just six months you will find that they were already discussing hiring a outside paid consultant, with taxpayers funds designated for direct services, and a New Extra Tax. This is even before they recieved the grant.

They had told taxpayers that the merger would save money.

Led by Grover Beach, it has been the plan all along to Increase Taxes and shift the tax burden for compensation, benefits, and pensions from the cities to Taxpayers.

They used a page from the old tax and spend playbook of using the department as a “Strawman” [ just like police and schools] and that taxpayers would just blindly approve

this New Extra Tax.

Vote NO

I was responsible for the morphing of three fire departments from volunteer to paid professional. As volunteers the firefighters were all about community, as paid professionals the firefighters became all about themselves. The Five Cities Fire Authority does not need more money, it needs more leadership and better management.

Hypothetically speaking, if were able to revert (in any given community) fire departments from paid back to volunteer, is there any way we could organize/manage them in such a way that we can get comparable or at least sufficient services? This is becoming a real problem in a lot of places. I really think it changes the character of the individuals seeking these jobs as well.

It is my understanding that about 90% of the county’s fire departments are volunteer. The need to move from volunteer to paid professional is dependent upon the community … in Oceano there are no jobs so all the qualified volunteers work out-of-town; therefore you get no one to respond during normal work hours when your firefighters are at work away from home. However, a city like SLO where there are plenty of jobs could support a volunteer fire department.

Fire Departments have a lot of feather bedding … since there are very few fires they respond to all traffic and medical calls. However, since a fire engine cannot transport they have to wait for an ambulance anyway … which means that you have four or more guys standing around waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

The work hours are rediculous… you are paying for four or more guys to sleep during the night hours. Firefighters should be staffed like police departments … an officer is on duty and awake when they are at work; firefighters, when not at a call, are either watching TV, working out or sleeping. My belief is that if a firefighter is at work they should not be sleeping — they should be working. Response time is not increased by sleeping personnel. Everyone knows someone that if awakened at 3:00 a.m. they are not fully awake and where do you think the first stop is if there is a 3:00 a.m. call — you are right, the bathroom. Firestations would cost much less to build if living quarters were not included. If a firefighter is on duty, bing paid they should be awake and working.

Also, review the statistics … there are about 1000 calls per month. the average call lasts 22 minutes (check the logs) which means that a typical firefighter works about 30 hours per month.

A new paradyme needs to be developed to staff our fire stations.

“However, since a fire engine cannot transport they have to wait for an ambulance anyway … which means that you have four or more guys standing around waiting for the ambulance to arrive.” This statement is unbelievable to me. It just shows you have no concept of what a fire department does. If you think these guys and girls are just sitting around the firehouse, playing cards, waiting for a fire or someone to stub thier toe, you are completly out of touch. Do you have any idea what a fire medic does????

Thank god you are not able to revert fire departments from paid to volunteer. You really need to educate yourself on the differences between paid professional and volunteer. It is not an apples to apples comparison. The paid professional firefighters are are just that, professional. They have specialized training in several areas and continue that training throuhout thier careers. I’m not trying to knock volunteers but, it would be a HUGE step backwards to go from paid professional to volunteer.

With all due respect … you are wrong … there is nothing that a paid professional can do that a volunteer cannot … as with all things it depends upon the individual … some volunteers are much better prepared, capable, and professional than their paid bretheran.

You get what you pay for.

With a volunteer fire department most times you get better for free than what you can pay for..

Not true. You would rather have a volunteer show up in their personal car to your house when you call 911 instead of a paid professional who is guaranteed to have the training and skills necessary to handle the emergency?

A volunteer would arive in the same vehicle as a paid member of a fire department … and within the 4 minute response time required by fire standards. Also, volunteers have the same and sometimes more (as has been stated above depending upon the individual) as a paid individual. In this particular instance you do not get a superior product just because you pay for it … my experience has been is that valunteers are very dedicated, exceptionally trained and qualified to perform their duties. Side by side it would be difficult to diferentiate between a volunteer and a paid fire fighter.

You know, when someone is asking a question in order to learn more about whether departments can be reverted back and if sufficient service can be provided, it is totally inappropriate of a reasonable, objective individual to respond with “you really need to educate yourself.” It is also very indicative of that respondent’s intellectual integrity.

First, the point of the question WAS to further educate myself.

Second, your response did almost nothing to educate me except express the exact same generalizations that a firefighter will tell you when he’s arguing for his money.

Here is what I would consider to be REAL information upon which I would base an opinion… what specialized training they receive, what % of paid firefighters receive each kind of training, and what % of volunteers also have that training (both statistical averages among similar communities of course), how often that specialized training is required and what % of time there is an adverse outcome in a community where a volunteer did not have the specialized training.

But I KNOW that you haven’t the slightest clue about any of that, because across the board whenever you have commented on a subject related to our police or firefighters you have voiced your support for them, and whenever pressed for reasons you have 100% of the time regurgitated the union talking points, but never provided any information to indicate you had objectively formed your opinion based on factual information.

mkaney you don’t want to hear the facts and stats. Every post you have ever made is negative to Police and Fire. I could tell you every fact, every statistic, every training class these guys take, every certification they have but the fact is you don’t care. For some reason, you have a real issue with paying these men and women what they are worth. I just don’t get it.

Taxation Without Representation

” The FCFA could technically put any Tax It Wants On The Ballot”

New Times

Feb 28

Joel Aranaz, Fire Chief

This statement really sums up the entitled attitude of the board, outside paid consultants[with taxpayers money designated for direct services] the union and the chief.

From the very beginning they have attempted to run a stealth campaign, they do not want people to vote, and have excluded public participation and debate at every level.

Clearly they want to run thier own private election, with their rules, mail the ballots from their office, use taxpayers funds illegally to support this New Tax, violating state law with statement on envelope and one sided brochure that only gives their view, they are going to count the ballots that are returned in their office,do everything they can to suppress the vote, then certify the results of this private election.

We all need to be concerned if this New Extra Tax passes using this very Undemocratic Process. What New Tax Is Next ?

“The Power To Tax, Is The Power To Destroy”

John Marshall

…as long as those voting do not have to present I.D., most low information voters around here probably could care less. Unfortunately.

So much for that Proposition a few years back about NOT taxing via fees and other non-voting/non-accountable measures.