The Five Cities Fire Authority has scrapped plans to pursue a parcel tax that would provide it with a stable source of funding once a federal grant expires next year, and is instead planning to propose an assessment to fill the gap.
Creating a benefit assessment district would require a majority approval from property owners, compared to the two-thirds vote needed to pass a parcel tax.
The assessments would depend upon parcel size and whether the property is used for commercial, residential or industrial purposes, Fire Authority Chief Michael Hubert told the Grover Beach City Council at its meeting last week.
The proposed benefit assessment district is a turnaround from the authority’s announcement in March that it would pursue a parcel tax to raise an estimated $1.4 million annually. With a two-thirds voter approval appearing unlikely, the authority switched to the assessment district proposal.
Hubert emphasized to the council that a stable source of funding is needed for the authority, which was formed when fire services for Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano joined forces in 2010. It has a combined annual budget of more than $4.2 million.
“The current budget does not enable the authority to have adequate personnel staffing on existing apparatus,” Hubert told the council. “The budget also does not allow for an apparatus and equipment replacement program, dedicates insufficient moneys toward dispatch services and cannot fund a dedicated fire prevention program.”
A two-year $1.2 million federal grant is set to expire in September, 2014, he said. The grant has allowed the authority to hire two firefighters, bringing on-duty staff to 10 workers total. Once the grant expires, those positions are at risk, Hubert said. “The proposed benefit assessment district is designed to provide funding to maintain as many of those positions as feasible when the grant expires,” he said. A formula for calculating assessment charges has not yet been determined, Hubert told the council, but the authority could support its current operations with an additional $900,000 to $1.1 million annually.
The cost to each parcel in the district will be presented to the Five Cities Fire Authority Fire Board at its December meeting, when the board will decide whether to send ballots to property owners.
The authority would then wait 45 days before holding a public hearing in which residents could voice protest or support for the measure, and the ballots tallied. If approved, the assessment would appear on property tax bills each year.