Council: Future of SP Fire Dept. will be addressed at Tuesday meeting

January 13, 2017
Santa Paula News

The Santa Paula City Council will address the future of the hometown fire department when it meets Tuesday evening.

The regularly scheduled meeting — pushed back from Monday due to the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — will start at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall Council Chambers. Spectrum Channel 10 will broadcast the meeting live and replay it according to schedule. The city will also live-stream the meeting and archive it for later viewing on demand.

Although the agenda was not available by deadline Thursday, City Clerk Lucy Blanco said the Council would be addressing the future of the Santa Paula Fire Department.

Founded in 1903, the hometown department has been financially challenged over the generations with a funding crisis emerging in recent years. The formerly paid-call volunteer department became full-time when it opened a second station in 1995, hiring captains, engineers and using reserves to complete on-duty crews.

In recent years a federal grant allowed the city to hire five full-time firefighters, a move that allowed the department to have better trained personnel available at all times. But when the first two-year SAFETY (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant ran out in 2014, the city was left to grapple with how to continue funding the department.

The council agreed twice to extend funding using General Fund money, but the issue became increasingly contentious amid budget constraints and the uncertainty of receiving a second grant.

In July 2015 the city learned it had received a $913,000 SAFETY grant, which Fire Chief Rick Araiza said was a huge relief, especially as the council had pried stopgap money from the tight city budget.

But it only reinforced safety needs in Santa Paula, which needs six full-time firefighters; the grant covers the cost of five. 

Relying on reserves is not an option: Araiza has told the council on numerous occasions that as training and safety requirements become more stringent reserves — who often have other jobs — cannot keep up. Also, reserves are prone to go through training and then find full-time positions with other fire agencies. 

Following the presentation of a White Paper on the department prepared by Vice Mayor Ginger Gherardi that analyzed various funding options and a formal, $50,000 study, the council directed Araiza to start discussions with the Ventura County Fire Protection District.

The council also placed a successful 1-cent sales tax on the ballot that was approved by voters meant to help fund police, fire, youth programs and roads. The council has yet to form an oversight committee, but the tax won’t start until April with funds coming to the city later. Several citizens have already questioned the initial premise of Measure T as it applies to fire services.

It is expected that Monday Araiza will update the council on negotiations with the county and receive further council direction. 

Site Search



Call 805 525 1890 to receive the entire paper early. $50.00 for one year.