Two friends walk into a restaurant for breakfast and start discussing the measure to fund three Cambria firefighters that will be placed on the June ballot.
Let’s call them Robin and Angel.
These two people exist inside my head, so, unfortunately, they won’t get to eat a real breakfast (and the imaginary waiter won’t get a tip, either). But apart from those practical details, a conversation between two Cambria residents on the issue might go something like this …
Angel: “I see the CCSD wants to levy a $378,000 fee to pay for three firefighters now that the federal grant is ending. It’s a good idea, especially during a drought like this. We need all the help we can get if a fire starts here!”
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Robin: “First it was going to cost $300,000. Now it’s $378,000. They added $78,000 to the price tag in less than a week! Everything always gets more expensive with the CCSD.”
Angel: “That’s because they didn’t want to run out of money to pay the firefighters if they got raises. That wouldn’t have been fair to anyone.”
Robin: “Well, why didn’t they figure that out to begin with? They knew the grant was ending months ago, and they just started dealing with it at the last minute.”
Angel: “I don’t know. I’m just glad they got it right.”
Robin: “How do we know they got it right? They thought they had it right the first time, didn’t they? The point is, we’re going to have to be paying a lot more if this thing passes.”
Angel: “It’s not really that much more, if you think about it. It amounts to $62 a year per parcel. That’s like the cost of a cup of coffee every month.”
Robin: “That’s only if you’re buying your coffee at Starbucks. There are no Starbucks in Cambria, and I like it that way!”
Angel: “My point is, $5 and change a month isn’t that much.”
Robin: “It is if you’re on a fixed income, and it’s a lot more than that if you own more than one lot! Plus, that $378,000 isn’t even counting the $20,000 it will cost to put the thing on the ballot, and landowners won’t even get to vote on it if they live outside the area. I call that taxation without representation. Forget coffee. I’m talking Boston Tea Party here.”
Angel: “Nearly everyone who spoke at the meeting where the CCSD put this on the ballot was in favor of it. Support is overwhelming.”
Robin: “That’s only a small fraction of the community. A lot of people who weren’t there might disagree.”
Angel: “You’ll get your chance to vote, and it has to pass with a two-thirds majority, so it has to be a clear mandate. But this isn’t a popularity contest; it’s about safety. Firefighters need to be able to comply with OSHA rules that mandate two of them go in and two of them stay outside during a structure fire. There aren’t enough of them in the Fire Department to do that without this measure.”
Robin: “How many structure fires have there been? Maybe half a dozen every year? Is that really enough to justify spending so much money?”
Angel: “Just one fire could burn down half the village if it gets out of control. Besides, it’s not as if the firefighters will only be working on structure fires. They’ll be answering all different kinds of calls. And there’s no guaranteed backup if a fire starts. The way things are, with everything so dry, it could spread in a heartbeat.”
Robin: “But there is backup. What about Cal Fire?”
Angel: “Cal Fire might be out fighting another fire, like that big one in Santa Barbara. Then, where would we be? On our own.”
Robin: “Well, some of us wanted to contract with Cal Fire to provide service here a couple of years ago. That would have cost us $145,000 more a year than keeping our own fire department, but that’s a lot less than $378,000.”
Angel: “And then we would have had only Cal Fire, not two fire departments serving the community, the way we do now.”
Robin: “You just made my point. We have two departments, so Cal Fire gives us good backup. We don’t need to be spending more money we don’t have.”
Angel: “You can never have too much backup in this kind of drought.”
Robin: “But sometimes you don’t have enough money to pay for it.”
I’m sure there are other arguments my imaginary friends could have made, but they parted company as friends, each having given the other something to think about. And whichever side you come down on, there is plenty to think about in the months ahead. Whatever you decide, listen to the arguments and vote June 5.