Los Osos fritters away pool fund

July 11, 2017

Julie Tacker


In 1996, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, after an advisory vote from citizens of Los Osos, passed and collected a $40 assessment from each developed residential parcel intending to fund parks and recreation services in Los Osos. That year, $225,000 was collected for these purposes.

The following year Proposition 218 was passed and when the assessment was brought back to the voters, now needing a two-thirds majority necessary to pass, the measure failed.

Characterized as “pool funds” the original $225,000 was later transferred to the newly formed Los Osos Community Services District.  There are no revenue sources for the fund, but for its small interest earnings.  By 2015, the fund grew to $305,836.

In 2006, many residents, including District 2 Parks Commissioner Pandora Nash-Karner, were concerned that those funds might be lost in the district’s bankruptcy. The board at the time was barraged by public comment, letters to the editor in several papers and a Tribune editorial urged the board to “release the money to the county for safekeeping until the county can build an aquatic complex in Los Osos.”

The LOCSD board, agreeing that the fund was a “sacred cow,” pushed back several general managers who recommended drawing upon it for salaries and benefits of office staff.  Until fiscal year 2015-16, the fund was off limits.

The board quietly began drawing on the park and recreation fund for administration in 2015 and by the fiscal year 2017-18 end, the fund will have just $273,683 left; according to the budget recently adopted. If this new practice continues the fund will be depleted by administrative draws with little-to-nothing to show for it.

Spearheaded by current district President Jon-Erik Storm and backed by Parks and Recreation Committee Chair Lou Tornatzky, in addition to drawing administrative funds from the “pool/recreation fund” the district has assigned projects to legal counsel to explore dog park and pocket park leases and liabilities which also draws on this fund.

These parks will have the same restrictions placed on them as any other new development in the Los Osos prohibition zone regarding adequate water supply and habitat conservation mitigation measures. Also a Coastal Commission blessed Community Plan that incorporates the mitigations, must be put in place before any permitting, let alone building, will occur.

At the rate of spending and less and less interest income each year, the fund will have whittled away over the next four to 10 years.

This year’s LOCSD adopted budget reveals the district has continuing financial problems. Five of their seven funds will deficit spend; three of those will need internal loans to balance, while two others will draw upon reserves. Only the water and fire funds are healthy, and that’s only because of a significant rate increase to the water fund this last month that trues up actual costs of operations and reallocates property tax to benefit the fire fund.

The current LOCSD board wants to do new things; their goals include parks and recreation and becoming their own planning commission. While the goal to offer parks and recreation services to the community is laudable, drawing down the fund for administration is not. Becoming a planning commission is simply pie-in-the-sky, piling on more work for a staff that struggles with day-to-day operations, let alone taking on land use matters.

The district should facilitate a financial analysis depicting its overall financial health and hold a public discussion on whether it should be dissolved.  Could the county perform the same services for less money?  Could the county’s economies of scale reduce costs overall?

With negotiations again underway for a raise to another undeserving general manager, the cry for “local control” has played out as more out-of-control than in control.

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