Politics & Government

Templeton election focuses on water, sewage, fire department

Templeton CSD candidate Rob Rosales.
Photo by David Middlecamp 09-25-14
Templeton CSD candidate Rob Rosales. Photo by David Middlecamp 09-25-14 dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

As the Templeton Community Services District tackles how to grow over the next four years, four candidates running for two seats on its board of directors say they’re keeping the community’s fire department, sewage treatment costs and water supply in mind.

The district has decisions to make on the future of its sewer services, which will likely cost millions of dollars in improvements to infrastructure. Discussions continue on whether Templeton should disconnect from the Paso Robles sewage treatment system, where residents currently send half of their wastewater. Bringing that flow back to the Templeton treatment plant would require upgrading facilities, but continuing to send sewage to Paso Robles means the district must help pay for upgrades now being done to that city’s sewer plant.

And, faced with drought and the North County’s falling groundwater levels, district officials say buying more shares of lake water from the Nacimiento Water Project may be necessary in the near future. Candidates also agree that determining how to deal with the district’s evolving volunteer fire department will be the next big hurdle.

While the challenges are clear, the answers are not.

Instead of giving specific solutions for the district’s looming water and sewer issues, the candidates said any move will require money, and each believes their backgrounds make them the best person to help lead Templeton through the upcoming decisions.

The candidates are Navid Fardanesh, Gwen Pelfrey, Wayne Petersen and Rob Rosales. Incumbents John Gannon and Greg O’Sullivan are not seeking reelection.

The candidates

Navid Fardanesh, a dentist, and his family moved to Templeton in 2012 because they liked the area and Templeton’s schools for their two children. They moved from Ripon, and Fardanesh served on that city’s planning commission from 2009 to 2014. He says his experience in public office makes him a good fit to help shape Templeton’s growth.

“I want to make sure … that we make good decisions, bring common ground and talk to all different groups. I feel that’s what we’re missing now,” he said. “I really like sitting down with residents, talking to them and finding solutions that work for everybody.”

Gwen Pelfrey, a retired banker, has lived in Templeton for 27 years. Her banking career included more than two decades as an executive vice president and, later, bank president and chief operating officer. Those years, she says, taught her skills in finance management and team leading and also exposed her to land use and water issues. She served on the CSD’s blue ribbon committee on Nacimiento Lake water and a Templeton Unified School District bond oversight committee.

“I would be diligent in monitoring the community’s water supply to ensure that the residents are not negatively impacted by any board decisions,” she said.

Wayne Petersen has lived in Templeton for 14 years and is a retired chief internal auditor for the Los Angeles County Employee Retirement Association. He’s served as president on both the Templeton Community Library Association and the bond oversight committee for Templeton schools. His platform is based on preserving Templeton’s rural character and helping to find funding as the district pursues changes to its water and sewer systems.

“I would strive to make the hard decisions and continue the work that needs to be done, which includes financing, seeking grant opportunities and exploring cost-saving measures that will reduce the burden on the residents of Templeton,” he said.

Rob Rosales has lived in Templeton since 2004 but says he became a part of the community eight years earlier when he opened a market and deli on Main Street. He served on the Templeton Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors for a decade and was a member of Templeton’s advisory group to the County Board of Supervisors from 2006 to 2012. Rosales says he will push the board to make decisions on Templeton’s water, sewer and public safety issues “while we are still in a position to be proactive, rather than reactive with our solutions,” he said. Including the public is also important to him.

“Communication is essential — between residents, the service district and decision-makers at the county level to assure the needs of the community and our residents are addressed,” he said.

The issues

The Templeton Community Services District’s volunteer fire department is at a crossroads.

For more than a century, the department has been run on volunteer firefighters who operate on a paid-call basis, setting their own schedules and receiving compensation only when they respond to an incident. A study this year concluded that the fire department didn’t have enough staffing or money to safely serve the Templeton area long-term.

The fire division is suffering from a declining volunteer force and recently had to start recruiting firefighters from as far away as Los Angeles to maintain staffing. Among options the district has discussed: Asking citizens to approve an assessment or similar revenuegenerating measure to hire more permanent staff; partnering with Cal Fire; or continuing to rely on community volunteers.

A subcommittee to the Board of Directors starts this week to find ways to pay for these ideas, and is slated to bring those ideas to the board by the end of the year.

So far, estimates show that having one career firefighter working alongside one paid-call firefighter in shifts every 24 hours would cost about $500,000 annually, according to the district.

All four candidates said finding a solution needs to play out through a public process. When asked whether the fire department should hire more permanent staff, continue to rely on volunteers or contract with Cal Fire, most declined to pick one solution over another.

“I have serious concerns that the current model is not sustainable, long-term,” Rosales said. “However, I believe most Templeton residents prefer having a Templeton Fire Department that has its own identity.”

He said he hopes residents want to try to keep the fire department locally run before partnering with other agencies.

Fardanesh agreed, although he thinks hiring permanent firefighting staff is inevitable. He said he’s been sitting down with firefighters and residents about the issue. Although he’d prefer to have the current system work, the goal is to have enough firefighters to respond to emergencies, so permanent staff may be the answer, he said.

“I’m not sure that depending on the volunteer structure is what’s best at this point,” Fardanesh said.

Petersen, who is on the fire department solutions subcommittee, said he thinks the issue should be put to a public vote.

“The voices I’ve heard out in the community is (a locally run department) would be preferable, and I think that they should let their voice be heard on that,” he said.

Pelfrey declined to weigh in on a solution, except to say she supports the board’s vote earlier this month to give the fire staff more time to consider its options.