Fire tax flub allows for voting as ballots are counted

April 6, 2014

five cities fireProperty owners in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano who have yet to vote on a firefighting assessment measure can still do so, even as ballots are counted.

The Five Cities Fire Authority is proposing a $66 fee on all properties in the three communities in order to eliminate a budget deficit slated to occur when funds from a federal grant run out later this year. The proposed fee could increase annually due to a 4 percent increase built into the assessment.

Friday at 2 p.m. marked the deadline for property owners to turn in ballots. However, at a fire board hearing Friday afternoon, fire authority officials acknowledged that ballot mailers sent to property owners contained the wrong return date. The fire authority extended the deadline to April 18, the day that the results of the election are expected to be announced.

In the meanwhile, The League of Women’s Voters will begin tallying votes. Due to the nature of the assessment, ballots are public and must be signed. Interested observers can view the ballots as they are counted, and a league representative said the organization will arrange daily times for the public to examine ballots.

The fire authority, formed by a 2010 merger of the three community’s fire departments, expanded from expanded from a $3.4 million operation to a $4.3 million agency in its first two years. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded the fire district a grant in 2012 as one-time money. The authority used it, though, to hire six firefighters.

Fire Chief Mike Hubert says the assessment is a proposal to increase services. Critics consider it a bailout of careless spending.

If the assessment passes, the fire authority will receive more than $1 million annually in additional funding.

The Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach city councils, as well as the Oceano Community Services District have each endorsed the assessment. The two councils and the district voted on behalf of the parcels the agencies own, casting a combined total of about 90 votes in favor of the assessment.

San Luis Obispo County and the Lucia Mar School District each abstained from voting for the parcels they own in the area.

A simple majority vote will determine the fate of the assessment.


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Guess they need more time to figure out how to legally throw out most of the NO votes or more time to mysteriously find enough YES votes to pass this new tax.

Get ready for the costly lawsuits. They will be coming with this most recent election problem. Can you imagine what is going to happen when they get the board, clerk, chief, consultants, lawyers, and others under oath.

It’s a best seller! “How To Grow a Bureaucracy For Dummies.”

I have a question. Since the cities and the OCSD do not pay property tax on properties they own, how are they going to pay this assessment? Will a new bill be sent just for the assessment? I know a ballot was mailed to every APN, rather or not it was on the tax rolls. Just wondering how it will be done.

bigdaddy, your question is a good one. The FCFA is considering what to do regarding those properties you identify, they may send a bill themselves or contract with a payroll company to do it –yet it may not be worth it, depending on the staff time. Many of those smaller properties are for mere pennies and not worth chasing. In fact they could end up costing the FCFA and the City’s/CSD more money in staff time than they are ever going to get in return.

The County of SLO has a threshold for this, currently it’s $5.00 or less, they won’t bother chasing it. State law allows them to fore go up to $20.00.

Stay tuned.

If the Fire Authority follows their initial senario of just extending the date they have a potential dead band looser on their hands. While this may not be a “get out of jail free card” for a busted election, this may give them some point to argue if this winds up before a judge. The League of Woman Voters need to segregate the ballots … those received by the original deadline of April 4 and those received by April 18. If the results of the tally of the April 4th ballots are the same as the results gleened from the ballots received between April 4 and April 18 then the Fire Authority can claim that there is “no harm. no foul” (if a judge buys this is questionable, but it is a better position that just changing the election protocol after the voting has commenced). If the result changes between the April 4 ballots and those received betwen April 4 and April 18 then Katie bar the door. If the Fire Authority has already comingled the ballots they are potentially screwed … their only hope, in my opinion, to defend a law suit is that ballots counted as received on the original deadline of April 4 and compared by the results gleened from the April 4 to April 18 ballots.are the same.

Mitch C,

I so would like to speak with you about this and many other things related to the South County shenanigans that appear to be going on. (I’m in the book if you chose to call).

If the vote goes down with a resounding “NO” than wouldn’t your point be moot? I’m sure you know, if people have already voted (one way or another) they have the right to change their vote right up until that 2:00pm hearing on April 18. Voters also have the right to ask for a replacement ballot to replace the ones they may have inadvertently lost or tossed.

What do you think about the count thus far? Is there a science to how people vote and how many ballots never get returned. To have only 4,000 returned thus far seems like a very low turn out. This is a vote of no confidence in my opinion.

A lot of folks are asking why the County Clerks office isn’t handling this? Do you know? I understand the ballots are being kept in the basement of the Grover Beach Police Department, where only the Chief of Police (formerly of King City) is allowed access.

The larger question is why the resistance to getting a quote from CalFire?

Here’s what I also see, FCFA was formed to save the community money, it’s NOT (I have a spreadsheet from 2006 to today). The first rule in government (and at my house) is to cut costs before raising revenue. This is not happening. A prime example is that Chief Hubert was just hired (March 21st) for another year as an “Administrative Battalion Chief” when that (not to exceed) $95,000 could have gone to much needed apparatus and equipment. The Chief is moonlighting, he is retired with a full pension, the prudent thing would have been to let him go off into the sunset to enjoy his retirement, saving the FCFA potentially $95,000 rather than creating a new position to keep him on.

Another way to save money would be to seek the services of Cal Fire, I have extensive history with Cal Fire and couldn’t recommend them highly. I encourage the FCFA member elected meet with Cal Fire Chief Lewin, he would be happy to speak with any of the agency Council/Board members about what they do. It costs nothing to FCFA to get the quote, merely the staff time to provide the needed information to Cal Fire to make their apples to apples comparison.

If I’m wrong, ask them to serve crow at the Rooster Kitchen and I’ll eat it.

The member agencies unfairly voted their heavy hand with the people’s property to help the assessment pass. Terribly wrong. The County and Lucia Mar abstained, which is what the councils should have done too. Let the people decide with their personal vote whether the cities should be assessed.

Reduce costs before raising revenue!

I’m sickened by the cost of this consultant to embark on this assessment and all his mistakes, the FCFA Board should be holding him accountable! Forget the $14.500 bonus should the vote pass, the liability on the FCFA is too great!

I am also troubled by the $96,000 to implement the assessment district, which comes from the first $1M. This is part of the cost cutting that should have been done.

See my opinion piece from a couple of weeks ago, the sewer district is right on the heals of these same voters with a rate increase of nearly the same amount later this year.

A suit challenging the results of an election would have to be brought by someone with an interest; i.e., someone subject to the tax. A suit could not be brought by an individual who does not own property that will be assessed. A “no” vote would not necessarily prohibit someone who is aggreived by the results from bringing suit. In some ways since this election is so flawed someone offended by the measure not passing could bring suit to have the election redone in essence giving the “no” vote proponents a second bite of the apple. Another area that could be subject to court review comes to light if the measure is affirmed within the margin of votes cast by the City of Arroyo Grande. Since a government agency does not pay the tax, it could be argued that they have no standing to determine the outcome by casting votes. It puzzles me as who thought up this mess.

“Only Chief of Police Has Access to Ballot Area”

Well as with so many things in this election, things are never as clear or fair as they might first appear !

The Chief of Police In Grover Beach who has access to all the ballots is also “The Assistant City Manager”. Clearly another conflict of interest that places the security of the ballots and legitamacy of this one sided election even further in doubt.

I will not even begin to discuss having the Chief of Police serve in both areas at the same time and the conflicts it brings to the chain of command and seperation of functions.

Why ? In my opinion this change was made to increase the pay of the Police Chief,to spike his salary so that it would Increase His Retirement Pay !

They have become more creative after the Bell California incident in covering their Pension Spiking and fleecing the public within the good old boy network.

Yes the Fire Chief is receiving $95,000 for 2014. Yes he is retired from the very same position and receiving over $126,000 from CalPers. Yes, CalPers is estimated to be $140 Billion Underfunded, Yes , the Fire Chief recommended the Tax Increase, Yes, the Fire Chief recommended this Election and Voting Process.

Please remember, these are the same people that are saying they need more funding and a New Tax Increase.

“Only Chief of Police Has Access to Ballot Area” This has been misconstrued. In fact, it is EVEN the chief of police cannot access the locked storage where the ballots are placed. ONLY the League of Women Voters can access the ballots.

Hey, they do what they want. I was charged 6 months after selling my house for the previous year. A retroactive tax, seemed strange to me since there were no fires near me.

I love Gov.t agencies. It’s a fee. Umm lets see. If you are accessing it to help pay for Gov.t stuff, then it is a TAX!!!! Stop your fancy bullshit wording so the TAXPAYER can’t deduct the tax you assessed on his taxes. And people working for Gov.t agencies wonder why we the taxpayer hold such utter contempt for them.

Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way … you cannot change the parameters of an election once voting commences. Some aggrieved party to the outcome of the election is in a perfect position to file suit to overturn the results and they will collect their attorney fees for their efforts. It is hard to believe that the process has turned out so badly and has the potential of having to be done again. It is best to leave the conduct of elections to professionals.

Mitch, Not sure who you call “professionals”.

REALLY ballots in a storage closet! Why are they conducting this election in such an” off the cuff” manner. Why isn’t this ballot measure on the regular election cycle? There’s a primary and a regular election in June and November this year respectively . It’s always seemed dicey to me that the Fire Authority is conducting an election at a very odd time of the year. Especially with the assessment going onto the property tax bills.

The stench of mendacity and corruption can’t be covered with a spritz of aerosol air freshener.


Wow the date on the ballots was incorrect, so much for proof reading the information you put in the pamphlet before you sent it out.What else might have been incorrect and they have not let us know?

But we hire only the brightest, smartest and best out there, that is why the salaries are so high!