Should the Five Cities Fire Authority be abolished?

May 14, 2015

Five Cities Fire AuthorityOPINION 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.

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Respectfully, DeAndre T

A consideration of a CalFire alternative would be helpful in understanding whether the FCFA is underfunded. I am not advocating that the FCFA be ended. I am asking the question, given that the FCFA is now five years old, should the JPA be revised if not ended. If it is to AG’s advantage to continue it, as a judgment of the Council, that is fine with me. Let the facts lead the decision.

I was prominently involved in opposing the tax initiative that failed by 66%. At the time, and as I do now, I suggested that instead of taxing the property owners $60 — peanuts — a fifty dollar per month fee should be applied to raise the total budget for the FCFA and thereby discharging the amounts from the city’s general fund.

I have repeatedly held that any fireman who will put his life on the line is a friend of mine. In that context you characterize my questions as ” WHINING”. Well, that is your opinion.I must observe, however, that where you praise the fireman of the FCFA you despise in the same breath the firemen of CalFire.

I suggest that is not only a contradiction, it unfairly castigates CalFire firemen — for all firemen are brothers. Further, that contradiction on your part is further confirmed by the fact CalFire serves Nipomo and Pismo Beach. If you are correct, why aren’t they members of the misnamed Five Cities Fire Authority that only serves two cities, Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach?

You state and ask regarding CalFire, “This is who you want us to have as our fire service Otis? What are you thinking?” Given you have characterized me as being a member of a “small disgruntled group with a hidden agenda”, I suggest, and I mean most respectfully, you should address the real issues, and I pray you do. For I agree with you totally an assessment should be made on the resources required to make or confirm that the FCFA — on at least the component that serves Arroyo Grande — is as equally outstanding operation as Cal Fire.

My mother had a heart attack last June. The firefighters of the Five Cities Fire Authority were at our house within minutes. They were compassionate and professional. They made the worst day of our lives better. Our fire department does a damn fine job. During Strawberry Festival there was a house fire. I heard from a reliable source that was at the fire…that FCFA was there in 3 minutes with water on the fire. They put the fire out and saved the residence. Once again, our fire department does a damn fine job.

A matter of fact…Arroyo Grande spends less per capita on it’s fire department than any other city in San Luis Obispo County. Furthermore, the city admin found that the formation of the FCFA has actually saved our city money. The city of Arroyo Grande spends almost three times more on the police department. STOP WHINING.

The FCFA asked for a little more money. For what? The part time firefighters make $10 an hour. Really? I think they make more at McDonald’s. Someone risking their life for our community should make more than $10 and hour. And they have two fire engines that are over 20 years old! Hmmm…replacing fire engines…reasonable. PUBLIC SAFETY SHOULD BE OUR FIRST PRIORITY. We have to give them enough money to do their jobs well.

Please google Cal Fire in the news. Battalion Chief Orville Fleming was arrested for murdering his girlfriend that he met on an escort site. The investigation revealed other misconduct while on duty for many years, including drinking on duty and sexual harassment. And in respects to the Moonlight fire, Cal Fire was ordered to pay $30 million for “egregious and reprehensible conduct”. This is who you want us to have as our fire service Otis? What are you thinking?

I support the Five Cities Fire Authority. I apologize to the men and women who work for FCFA for the constant harassment by a small disgruntled group with a hidden agenda. Thank you for everything you do. Please know that the majority of the community supports you.


You suggest a “small disgruntled group with a hidden agenda” subjects FCFA to “constant harassment”?

First, what possible “hidden agenda” could there be in asking for a cost comparison quote from Cal Fire? It’s about apples n apples, dollars to dollars, period.

Don’t you shop when you need service?

When public dollars are at stake, it is the elected officials duty to get the most for the people’s money. We don’t know if Cal Fire could do the same for less, those in the position to ask, haven’t and until they do, the so called “constant harassment” will continue.

BTW, if you had to put up with some of the unprofessional behavior of the employees, friends and relatives of FCFA, as some of us who are brave enough to question authority have, you would be ashamed. Some have gone so far as to suggest Julie ‘hope she doesn’t need FCFA service while visiting the south county.’ Is that a threat?

The only thing that is constant and erodes the relationship of the FCFA with the public is the phony arguments put forth by those that continue to use “per captia” data and assert costs are higher in Pismo. This is an incorrect way to compare Cal Fire to FCFA. The only way to get a fair comparison is by comparing service for service, the two companies do different things. So why the resistance to asking for a free quote? Until the quote is done we (this includes me) are all guessing.

If the quote reveals that FCFA is underfunded, the elected officials still have the choice whether or not to contract with Cal Fire. It’s not a done deal, far from it. The comparison may encourage them to fund FCFA at a higher level. A quote is simply information gathering, deciding to change is a much larger question that comes later and was declined in the case of Morro Bay.

So what’s FCFA afraid of? If they are what they say they are, “lean and mean” then let the comparison play out and prove it to the taxpayers.

CentralcoastRN nails it. I call this a “managerial audit”. Where does the revenue come from and where is it spent? Line by line. It is a good old fashion “cash flow” summary.

One should not confuse this with a “financial audit” where the auditors proclaim things are in order accounting wise. A managerial audit challenges the decision making on spending and use of funds.

As compared with business, the government councils and managers need not concern themselves with expenditures of “marketing and sales” to raise money except for efforts to raise taxes — where they unfortunately excel.

In a time where people like me aren’t getting raises, I think we ALL need to be looking closely at budgets.


We are a tiny little five cities community. We need to look at where the money is going. Line by line, item by item. If I have to do it in my home, then the each of every City and unincorporated township is going to have to pull up their bootstraps and do it.

There is no need to call in outside, fancy auditors to do this. This is where retired teachers, concerned citizens should be able to look at the budget and submit some input. There are some smart people amongst us that have been very successful when it comes to balancing budgets and crunching numbers.

I just believe in allowing for input. Too much secrecy these days have led to some very unwise decision making that has been too costly for we the taxpayers. We can’t afford it.

Julie, it is your assumption that the formula was misapplied. The administrators may have intentionally applied it as they did. Your usual call that everything be audited, is, as usual, a major waste of time and money. The application is what it is, there is nothing missing, no misappropriation, just a group of administrators doing the best that they could.

AG city staff could easily do the audit I suggest. This is simple math, no need for a consultant in this case.


I would also be willing to bet that slobus is a San Luis ambulance paramedic (hence the name SLO=san Luis obispo, bus = ambulance). He or she may live in Los osos but is either a FCFA reserve and/or works on the ambulance in their area. He/she also is making comments about getting rid of reserves in Los osos because although they would like to talk poorly of CALFIRE they think that this would make more career positions and an opportunity for employment for them at the South Bay station.

Great sleuthing.

You’re probably right.

If this is the case, then his/her experience is a valuable asset tot he issues, he/she should look at how to fix the problem rather than be nasty with those who are shining the light on the problems.

Mr. Adams job was to look out for the interests of A G. It was up to the city manager and general manager of Grover and Oceano respectively to watch over the interests of their agencies. Mr. Adams saved AG citizens over $1,250 000 over 5 years by passing costs to other agencies. I don’t understand how he would be criticized for this. It appears that only after the new regime came in is AG citizen money starting to flow unchecked: $35,000 more per year for a city manager, $250,000 more for fire service, etc. And the hits are just beginning.

We have Ferrara and the gang to thank for hiring Lieberman. He’s the one with the lengthy wish list, too bad there’s no money to pay for it.

Really Mitch? It’s OK to take from the poor and give to the rich? As you are aware, OCSD can barely afford the services at the rates that have been paid. Sadly, the string of current and past OCSD GM’s have been more interested in seeing that there’s enough money for their paychecks; without looking at the greater good of the community.

Obviously, this misapplication of the formula all this time triggers the need for an audit of the FCFA now to see if any of the member agencies have over or under paid and to see if FCFA has paid its admin fees to AG for their bookkeeping all these years.

The reality is, Lieberman can ask for more money for his dream budget, but it’s up to the agencies to decide whether or not they can afford his requests.

After watching AG’s budget workshop last month, it’s obvious they can not endure a $265,000 blow at this time without cutting something else. Perhaps close a park? Cut some other services? Lay off staff? Something has to give. AG is currently looking at an enormous CalPERS unfunded liability that it has to catch up on over the next 5-7 years.

How can they do both? Fund FCFA’s increase AND the CalPERS obligation.