Cambrians won’t be paying an extra $62.15 a year for fire protection, according to preliminary vote results from the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder's office.
The local Measure A-18 fire tax — hotly debated for months in cafes, coffee klatches, in meetings and especially on social media — failed in Tuesday’s primary election, with yes votes receiving 53 percent. It needed two-thirds approval to pass.
Only 1,976 ballots were cast out of a possible 4,196 with all three local precincts reporting, according to stats released Wednesday morning.
The vote won’t be final until all vote-by-mail and provisional ballots are counted, including those submitted at polling places Tuesday.
The Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors will now either will have to find another way to pay for three Cambria Fire Department firefighters originally funded by a grant, or not provide a third trained professional on every engine that goes out on call, as is strongly recommended by fire officials across the country.
It means firefighters Ian Van Weerden Poelman, Ben Shank and Aaron Hunt could lose their jobs when the current funding runs out.. Shank and Hunt also are trained paramedics; Van Weerden Poelman is training to become one.
“We understand that the people didn’t want an additional tax, but a third full-time firefighter is still gravely needed,” Capt. Emily Torlano said early Tuesday morning, speaking on behalf of Local 4635 firefighters union. “Going forward, our firefighters are going to do extensive community outreach and education, getting the community more involved so they understand better the real risk that Cambria and the firefighters face.”
Opponents maintained that the additional coverage wasn’t needed because fires don’t happen often in Cambria, and mutual-aid agreements with other fire departments in other communities would help fill that gap when a blaze does break out.
For instance, in a May 29 house fire in which a woman was badly burned, firefighters from Cal Fire, Morro Bay and Templeton were on the fire line. Firefighters also respond to a number of other emergencies, including calls for medical assistance.
Torlano emphasized strongly that the measure’s failure won’t change the fact that all of Cambria firefighters “love our jobs, we love this community, and we’ll do the best job we can, as we always have.”
The failure also sends a sobering message about rate increases being considered by CCSD and a ballot measure that Cambria Community Healthcare District will discuss on June 13, both of which could wind up on the November ballot.