Fire tax flub allows for voting as ballots are counted
April 6, 2014
Property 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.