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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justbeware

Mr Adams, did not calculate the percentage due by each member of the authority according to the very specific rules of the JPA. As administrator, it is hard to believe he was unaware of this for nearly 5 years. It didn’t take long for the new interim city manager and fire chief to discover the error.


justbeware

Posted to wrong spot, this response is to Cathy, below.


Local1

SloBus,

A quick search of the county web site does not show any Pierce Fire Engines within CAL FIRE or Contracts in SLO County. Look at Five Cities Fire and they have 2 Pierce pieces of equipment. Maybe we should just look at all of the facts and make real and truthful comments about facts not assumptions. Homework pays off…


NorthCountyDude

Arroyo Grande WAS/IS very no-growth. I’m surprised anything good comes from AG these days. No one did jack squat when the new christian’s matress outlet went in and took up what would have been a free-way stop with several eateries INCLUDING CHIPOTLE. Great, force people to go to SLO to spend their money there. I’m not even asking for a Target here, but seriously could we have a Chipotle? Why are their empty spaces next to Baja Fresh?


Oceano is a bunch of no-growth too. Taxes are high in Grover and Oceano because of the lack of tax revenue and that’s why they made that deal with the AG fire department. Grover is at least bringing in new hotels and other sources of revenue. Oceano doesn’t even add new housing developments!! Has anyone even droven by Oceano recently? It looks like Santa Maria or Guadalupe. It’s the armpit this side of the grade. Yeah, I said it! Get over it!


This area needs growth. Maybe this new city manager and new city council will promote growth opportunities. All though, I don’t know of any large housing developments or mid-sized employers wanting to come to Arroyo Grande. Most have already gone to Santa Maria or San Luis. Why is the area called Five Cities again? Should more be “Five Suburbs”


Otis

Respectfully, Sl0Bus, I am not Julie Tacker’s “mouth piece”. My opinion is my own and is expressed in the specific context of the matters involving the FCFA in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beacdh and Oceano . It has nothing to do with Los Osos. Besides this fact, and I emphasize again respectfully, I disagree with you in that I admire Julie Tacker and am thankful for her extensive public service.


SloBus

Honestly, I’m pretty tired of reading these Otis/Julie Tacker oped pieces. As a Los Osos resident, I am tired of my Emergency Services Advisory Committee member Julie Tacker, attacking other agencies, and hiding behind Otis in this case. And shame on CalFire, my fire department, for allowing her to represent Los Osos and CalFire in this way. I’m calling on CalFire-South Bay to address Julie and these unfounded statements.


You know what Julie and Otis, why don’t you ask Los Osos why we just bought a new fire engine from Pierce, the most expensive fire engine manufacturer. Why didn’t we buy something cheaper? Why did CalFire not buy the engine? Why is Los Osos still paying for a reserve program? Why does my Fire Engine in Los Osos drive all over the county and leave my community uncovered, and then attempt to back fill with paid call firefighters? Why do the Career Firefighters and my fire engine that I pay taxes for leave my community? Otis and Julie, I am challenging you to write a piece like this about Los Osos and the true cost of that fire department, both the cost to contract with CalFire and the cost to the CSD for the reserve program, facilities, apparatus, etc.


I’m sure you will attack me for my moniker and not using my real name, which is okay. The fact of the matter is that I would like to preserve my confidentiality since you often choose to personally attack others. As I stated before, I’m tired of reading these articles, and for how these individuals, Julie Tacker especially, represent my community and CalFire. Furthermore, shame on you Otis for being Julie’s mouth piece, you are not fooling anyone.


Pelican1

Hypocrisy knows no bounds.


Julie

Slobus,


Otis is on his own on this one.

If you really want answers, which from your tone it’s clear you don’t, perhaps you should read a staff report or attend an LOCSD EAC meeting.


Q. “why we (Los Osos) just bought a new fire engine from Pierce.”

A. 1) Los Osos did not buy a Pierce, it purchased a Crimson (http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2013/08/23/2647535/fire-truck-pismo-beach-los-osos.html)

2) LOCSD paid cash. 3) Economies of scale for buying two of the same engines. (LOCSD was replacing a 15 year old truck they were able to sell for $70,000.)


Ironically, FCFA is considering purchase of a Pierce, the FCFA staff report says this about it: “Initial estimates for a replacement fire engine range from $525,000 to $575,000. A 10-year lease/purchase contract would require an annual debt service payment of approximately $69,000 for a ten year period with no down payment.”


Q. Why did CalFire not buy the engine?

A. The agreement with LOCSD is that all facilities and equipment belongs to the district. We could go back to having our own company at any time; if we so chose.


Q. Why is Los Osos still paying for a reserve program?

A. It is the most cost effective way to meet our level of service. The bottom line is costs of providing quality service, isn’t it?


Q. Why does my Fire Engine in Los Osos drive all over the county and leave my community uncovered, and then attempt to back fill with paid call firefighters?

A. Station 15 is like any other cooperative agreement, often our equipment rolls on calls outside our jurisdiction. The benefit of having the CalFire crews “up and cover” when our crew is called away is mutually beneficial to those who seek aid.


Q. Why do the Career Firefighters and my fire engine that I pay taxes for leave my community?

A. As per the LOCSD agreement, the firefighters are employees of CalFire, the Reserves are employees of the LOCSD and the building and equipment belongs to LOCSD. The area of coverage extends west to the beach at Montana de Oro (8,000 acre State Park), all of Los Osos to the east to Turri Road and into Clark Valley and north to the Morro Bay City limit where we do have an auto aid agreement to cover them. The answer is no different than a FCFA truck/employees answering a call in Huasna Valley or on the Mesa.


SloBus says, “I am challenging you to write a piece like this about Los Osos and the true cost of that fire department, both the cost to contract with CalFire and the cost to the CSD for the reserve program, facilities, apparatus, etc.”


No need to write a piece; here are some facts: The LOCSD total fire budget according to last years unaudited financials was $2.1 million. This included the purchase of the truck, all maintenance on the building, Reserve Firefighters, and a $107,000 draw from the LOCSD administrative department. This amount also allocates for funds to be put into reserve for improving the building (this year we intend to purchase solar panels to reduce electricity costs) and a vehicle sinking fund (to fund the purchase of the next truck that is coming up to be replaced in the coming years).


LOCSD enjoys a higher level of service than that the FCFA provides: The normal on duty staffing level for the fire station emergency response personnel is a combination of the following: Fire Captains, Fire Apparatus Engineers, Firefighter IIs, and Reserve Firefighters. At least two on duty staff is paramedics at all times. At least four personnel is scheduled on duty every day. Variations to this scheduled staffing may occur as circumstances dictate, however, there is always a minimum of two qualified CalFire officers of FAE rank or higher on duty.


Here’s a link to the agreement: http://www.losososcsd.org/Library/2014%20Agenda%20Packet/06.05.14%20Agenda%20Packet/Agenda%20Item%2011G%20Cooperative%20Fire%20Agreement.pdf


The Grand Jury recently wrote a report recommending Cambria contract with CalFire, http://slocourts.net/downloads/grand_jury/reports/2014/Making_the_Case_for_Efficiency.pdf


For many of the same reasons, AG, GB and OCSD should consider asking Cal Fire for a bid, let the numbers talk.


If you have any further questions. Bring it on.


wssailor

SloBus your facts are wildly inaccurate. See corrections below:

1. Los Osos bought an engine from Spartan ERV not Pierce. It was over $80k cheaper than the pierce.

2. Calfire didn’t buy the engine because Los Osos doesn’t pay them to buy the engine. Los Osos contracts with San Luis Obispo County Fire, who in turn contracts with CAL FIRE for staffing…not equipment. Los Osos still buys and owns all of its equipment and the fire station.

3. Los Osos pays for a reserve program because they get a company of 25 people that can be paged to provide manpower at an emergency. They also work shifts and fill the 4th seat 24/7. Having a reserve company gives your surge capacity, creates a connection to community and is training platform for new firefighters to replace the aging and retiring.

4. Your primary paramedic engine in Los Osos doesn’t cover all over the county. Its required to stay in the district by the contract unless responding to an automatic aid or mutual aid request (I’ll come back to this). If there is a need to cover somewhere in the county the reserve firefighters are paged, they come to the station and cover the reserve engine (a 20 year old Pierce purchased before CALFIRE) and they go cover. Your full-time paramedic firefighters stay in the district.

5. Back to mutual aid/Automatic aid: Every fire department in California participates in the master mutual aid agreement, whereby assistance from other fire departments is promised to help deal with incidents outside the capacity of of your department in return for participation in the system. This is done free of cost. Automatic aid agreements are a smaller local version of this agreement. For instance: Los Osos would automatically assist Morro Bay with a Fire and Morro Bay would automatically assist Los Osos. Again this is free of cost.


Please use FACTS when commenting in the future. Ignorance is contagious!


wssailor

FYI Crimson is the custom build division of Spartan ERV. Its the same company.


SloBus

You know you’re right about them not buying a Pierce, I do recall seeing the letter of intent to purchase a pierce but it slipped my mind and they didn’t, I’ll give you that.


I would like to point out that both Julie and wssailor provided me with the exact information to make my point. I’ll keep it short.


CalFire does not pay for anything other than staffing. $1.7 Million for staffing! LOCSD pays for equipment, stations, reserve program, and apparently solar panels. $2.1 million for fire services for one station with 4 people a day!


While LOCSD does have paramedics on duty, it is not necessary in the five cities. There are two ambulances stationed there with 4 people, with at least 1 paramedic on each unit. This ambulance provider does also service LOCSD and they are the transport agency, not CalFire. I do however agree with having paramedics due to our rural location.


I would beg to differ on your assumptions that LOCSD provides a better service than FCFA. FCFA has 3 stations with staffed equipment; 3 captains, 2 engineers, 1 driver/operator, and 2 reserves on duty 24/7. Also battalion chief duty coverage 24/7. They also have the ability to back fill with their reserve pool, just like LOCSD.


So lets get down to it, 2.1 million for 1 station with 4 (2 paramedics) or a proposed 3.9 million for 3 stations with 8 with also 2 ambulances stationed there for a total of 5 response units in the jurisdiction, versus 1. LOCSD is 15,000 population, AG, GB, and Oceano has 40,000 +.


The fact of the matter is that these two jurisdictions are very different and perhaps what could come out of this is to realize that and quit attacking FCFA and making us, LO, look bad. There are things about every agency that you can chastise; time is better spent on the positive.


On another note, 2/3rds of all firefighter fatalities are non-career firefighter. I believe station 15 should be all career, due to its rural setting. Perhaps Julie, as the ESAC member could push this.


With regard to the grand jury report that you reference above, it does not recommend that Cambria contract with CalFire. It makes a recommendation to request a presentation from CalFire on what they can provide. But the the underlying problem is, and you can read it again, is funding. If they cant afford what they have already, and they have no plan, then they may not be able to afford CalFire. Reread the report. They can’t afford to replace their own equipment even if they contract with CalFire.


wssailor

You don’t understand the contract process. CAL FIRE doesn’t pay for anything. Los Osos pays CAL FIRE to provide staffing. Its all their (los osos) money whether they provide the people or not. The people happen to be cheaper through CAL FIRE due to the schedule and economies of scale…hence the contract. And yes, San Luis Ambulance is the transport agency for Los Osos and every other city in the county with the exception of Cambria. No fire departments in this county are transporting. You ambulance for Los Osos comes from Morro Bay, thus the need for paramedics in Los Osos. Its a long wait, especially if the Morro Bay ambulance is already transporting from Morro bay, Cayucos or where ever they happen to be.

Julie’s comment about level of service has nothing to do with the service being delivered by the firefighters. The FCFA firefighters deliver a good service. Her statement is about the level ALS vs BLS. With regards to reserve firefighters: every fire department in this county uses reserves/volunteers with the exception of paso robles and san luis obispo. The reason 2/3rds of the fatalities are reserves/volunteers is because there are more of them. Again as I said before ignorance is contagious. Bad news…you’re infected.


Julie

SloBus,


You’re correct, the GJ report does suggest Cambria “request a presentation from CalFire on what they can provide.” Which is all I have ever asked of FCFA; request a bid.


Your comparison of Los Osos vs. FCFA is an apples to oranges comparison, let’s see apples to apples, what can CalFire do with the same amount of money? The analysis has to be done on LOS, not per capita. And I don’t believe anyone ever said Los Osos has “better service”. Los Osos has a higher level of service and the voters were happy to pay for it when they passed a Special Fire Tax in 2005 by 87%. Both LOCSD and FCFA have qualified, dedicated, respected crews.


FCFA does not own/maintain their buildings or pay their utility bills — you can’t really compare that to LO’s cost. (btw, AG is looking to install solar on their fire station in the next year or so). The engines were contributed by the agencies, if any one were to want out (Mary Lucey was pushing that just a year ago) of the agreement, I’m sure they’d take their trucks and equipment with them. Neither FCFA or LOCSD is paying for ambulance service and their paramedics. To be fair, you can’t add these things into the $3.9M.


I invite you to join us at an ESAC meeting to share all your thoughts, clearly you are ‘in the know’. Perhaps you can be of help in our committee’s battle against the LOCSD’s high administrative charge that we’ve been arguing for nearly 10 years. Imagine if that $107,000 were halved, how much more CalFire could do. FCFA does not have a citizen committee to help with expanded discussions, and recommendations to the board, like LOCSD does. This is a valuable place to dialogue. Not like FCFA’s board meeting stacked with dagger shooting eyeballs of men in uniform in attendance. Do you know how transparent that is? Obviously there to intimate the speakers from saying what’s on their minds and intimidating the board members to vote for pay raises the cities/csd can’t afford.


I am not “attacking” FCFA, (this is Otis’ opinion piece, I don’t think he’s “attacking” either) I am merely saying that until the member agencies agree to getting a quote they are doing their ratepayers a disservice. The “cost savings” of the formation of the FCFA has not been quantified and from my perspective only AG has realized cost savings and kept the revenue of admin. Oceano has benefited from a higher level of service, but they are tapped out financially and have obligations to their fire facility that are being deferred so they can pay FCFA.


Maybe you can answer a question. The assessment that failed last year was designed to fund the SAFER grant fire fighters $660,000 and $440,000 for equipment and apparatus, the new priority is raising the Reserve pay and adding a Battalion Chief. Why the big difference? If the SAFER FF’s were the priority and there’s a $300,000+ increase available to FCFA this year, why not hire a couple of them back instead?


I’m in the phone book, feel free to call and discuss.


65buick

In a word: yes.


It’s disgraceful how this bunch has become so politically powerful.


pandayho

you might wanna looksee what calfire just did statewide before you push this solution.


Julie

pandayho,

Please explain your comment.


OnTheOtherHand

I am not familiar with the details but I heard some vague rumblings about problems with them too. Yeah, as bad as this seems (assuming that Otis if close with his facts), it pays to look closely at alternatives too before jumping from the frying pan into the (Cal)fire.


Mitch C

I don’t see any evidence of a conspiracy and/or poor management by previous AG administration. Without any evidence there is talk about “something going on”, the change in shared cost formula could simply be that after five years of operation the call volume statistics have become more solidified and the once “best guess” division of costs devised at the inception is now being adjusted to reflect current activity. If this is the case future cost realignments can be expected to reflect actual activity. Anybody see a staff report? My suggestion, move along, nothing to see here.


justbeware

Steve Adams may never have used the “new” percentages (outlined in JPA guidelines) if the only way to show the promised “savings” for AG was to continue with the 45/35/20 percentages which were only to be used the first year.

As administrator, he was aware of this.


Nothing to see?

Agree with Otis, where there’s smoke there’s usually fire.


kayaknut

“move along, nothing to see here” wasn’t that the same comment Steve Adams gave to the police who responded to a dark city hall late one evening during a “tea party”?


agag1

Spot on Otis!

Residents of all cities involved should be concerned about the budget being proposed by Lieberman.

And that smoke we’re smelling is from former AG Mayor Ferrara, and former AG city manager Steve Adams having cooked the books.

It’s shocking to learn about the financial mess AG is in. Once Mayor Hill began to let the public in our our financial situation, the myth of Ferrara and Adams doing right by us went out the door. Who knows how what will be discovered next? So far, it’s been a lot of bad news, and this FCFA situation only adds more fuel.

Jim Hill has inherited a dumpster fire.


MajorityFan

It seems to me that you just keep digging a deeper hole.


cathy

When the statement is made that two people cooked the books I find accusations about anyone disturbing. However, if this is a fact that can be proven then please detail the facts of how the “books were cooked.”