Should the Five Cities Fire Authority be abolished?
May 14, 2015
OPINION By OTIS PAGE
There is a sense of smoke in the air in Arroyo Grande. The smoke suggests that there may be a fire burning at the Board of the Five Cities Fire Authority (FCFA) that meets on Friday, May 15, at 10 a.m. in Grover Beach.
Citizens in the area served by the FCFA should be aware of the situation. A little attention to this matter by citizens could contain the situation given the possible budgetary seriousness of the matter.
In June of 2010, the City of Grover Beach entered into a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) with the City of Arroyo Grande and the Oceano Community Services District to form the FCFA.
The purpose of the authority’s formation was to improve the level of service by combining the independent Fire Departments into a single unit to achieve cost savings in operation.
At the inception of the JPA in 2010, operating budgets were allocated 45 percent to Arroyo Grande, 35 percent to Grover Beach, and 20 percent to Oceano. Since that time, contributions have continued to be allocated based on the 45/35/20 split. This year’s proposed 2015-16 plan will use a 48/33/19 split resulting in a major increase in Arroyo Grande’s share from $1,582,488 to $1,846,264 — a 17 percent increase.
This is bad news for Arroyo Grande’s citizens (and many property owners in Grover and Oceano) that recall the debacle in 2014 where the FCFA Board wished to impose a property tax on the citizens. A proposition that failed by 66 percent!
This action begs the question, Why the change? And if warranted, why wasn’t it used before? Is the answer that the prior Tony Ferrara, Joe Costello and Steve Adams administration in controlling the FCFA Board was so one sided it gave Arroyo Grande a better deal than Grover and Oceano?
I would think some citizens of Grover and Oceano would like an answer to this question.
At the time the Fire Authority was created in 2010, its initial budget was originally approximately $3.3million. Five years later the budget being proposed will be almost $3.9 million, an 18 percent increase closely matching the 17 percent increase now being burdened on Arroyo Grande.
All of this further begs the question where have been the “savings” promised in 2010 when the JPA was formed? While initial cost savings was planned with consolidation in 2010, the contradiction was admitted that the FCFA would require additional revenue in the future for equipment replacement and staffing to properly fund centralized fire dispatch. Again, what happened to the alleged cost savings when the JPA was formed?
Should there be an audit of this record? And if so — should the JPA be abandoned? Arroyo Grande citizens might think so. In any event, should Cal Fire be considered by each member of the JPA — Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano?
It is time to clear out the smoke and address the real managerial and budgetary issues that affect the precious resource of our firemen.
Otis Page is a resident of Arroyo Grande.