County Supervisors decided to take over the Cayucos Fire Department, voting to absorb any additional costs to provide fire services within the County’s annual general fund budget.
In what was expected to be a tough decision, Supervisors were unanimous in voting to tell the Local Agency Formation Commission or LAFCo., to move forward with dissolving the Cayucos Fire District and having County Fire take over service in the community.
Lisa Howe, with County Administration, said Supervisors agreed to set a service level of full time staffing, 24/7. Howe said that means a $912,000 hit to the general fund, the amount above the fire district’s annual assessments of some $601,000 a year. The County has estimated it will cost some $1.5 million a year to provide fire services, including emergency medical aid, to Cayucos.
“They’re telling LAFCo.,” Howe explained, “that’s the service level the County is willing to provide, and is also willing to take over all the assets and liabilities of the fire district.” The fire assessments, which run about $100 a year per property, will remain in place to help defer the costs.
The Supervisors also voted to form a Blue Ribbon Committee to look at the costs for providing fire services to all the unincorporated towns and rural areas under the County’s jurisdiction.
Other small, local, fire districts, like Templeton, are having similar issues as Cayucos, insufficient money and difficulty finding people willing to work for their departments. One of the issues with Cayucos has been the extensive training and commitments of time needed to be an on-call-paid (formerly called “volunteer”) firefighter given the codes and regulations for safety and training they must meet.
It’s essentially a lot of time and effort for not a lot of money, and Cayucos reached a point late last year where it didn’t have enough fire operators (essentially engineers) to be able to respond to fires all the time, though the department’s emergency medical aids were unaffected.
That crisis of manpower hit after the Cayucos Fire Protection District Board last September applied to LAFCo., to dissolve the District. That decision came after a tax increase on the June 2016 ballot was defeated by Cayucos voters. That increase would have raised enough money to keep the Cayucos Fire Department going, and when it failed, the District’s fate was sealed.
Howe said the issue will go back to LAFCo., and she expects there to be a final decision on the dissolution of the District in July or August, which is past the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.
“It’s still going to take some time,” she said. Cal Fire, which contracts with the County to run the County Fire Department, also runs fire departments in Pismo Beach and Los Osos, as well as a large command and training center at Camp San Luis and individual seasonal fire stations scattered across SLO County.
Cal Fire needs time to get moved into the Cayucos Station, Howe explained.
The decision is going to land a sizable hit on a County budget that’s looking like it’s going to be awash in red ink next year. “We’re building the County budget right now,” Howe said. “We’re looking at a deficit with the County budget. We need to do board prioritization and see what we need to cut.”
The County will take over a fire department that is soon going to need to replace its main fire engine and EMS squad truck, and the stationhouse will need work as well if it’s gong to house four firefighters overnight.
Last September the County hired Vanir Construction Management, Inc., to do a “Facility Condition Assessment” that pegged the cost for expansion/remodeling of the old stationhouse at $250,000 (which can be paid over 10 years), and renovations to the stationhouse at $890,000 for a “rough estimate” of some $1.1 million.
By Neil Farrell