Council agrees to prepare LAFCo application for SPFD annexation

February 24, 2017
Santa Paula News

The City Council again tackled the future of the Santa Paula Fire Department at a meeting Tuesday when they agreed to prepare an application to LAFCo, which must approve annexing services into the Ventura County Fire Protection District. 

Several speakers delved deeper into the finances of such a move at the February 21 meeting and public comment took a personal turn when a west area resident questioned the closing of VCFD Station 26, located at the corner of Olive Street and West Telegraph Road.

Fire Chief Rick Araiza, Assistant Fire Chief Mike LaPlant and Finance Director Sandy Easley presented three scenarios to the council, which at the last meeting had requested more detailed financial information.

Three alternatives were presented that showed annual expenses through Fiscal Year 2022/2023 including city costs for retaining the fire department, the cost if fully funded including revenue anticipated from the 5,000 residents expected in East Area 1 and if the SPFD was annexed to the VCFD. 

The council was told the numbers for the new Harvest development of 1,500 dwelling units is still incomplete and more financial information is forthcoming. 

But, even if the city did annex fire services to the county there would still be pension and other costs retained by the city; Araiza, presently also the director of Building & Safety, would remain at the city in that position so his former SPFD salary for the most part would remain a city cost.

The city would also lose permitting and inspection fees, fire service filming revenue and mutual aid payments among other revenue, a loss said Easley, of about $400,000 annually. 

Citizens seeking such services would deal with the county which Araiza said he believes could charge a higher cost but it was not known if residents would be able to make such arrangements locally or have to travel out-of town.

If the shift occurred, Santa Paula would pay nearly 80 percent of its share of property taxes to fund the district, the highest percentage in the county for VCFD services, a higher expense. For the 2015-16 fiscal year, the cost would have been approximately $2.8 million, compared to the close to $2.4 million the city spent out of its General Fund.

Santa Paula’s negotiated rate of services is higher than those of other cities that contract with the county. 

Vice Mayor Ginger Gherardi asked LaPlant what fire services would be required due to the building of the Harvest.

“At that point the city would have to look at a paramedic engine and an apparatus truck,” with a ladder said LaPlant, a huge capital expense. 

During public comment Shirley Hendren told the council she and other residents outside city limits to the west, who still have a Santa Paula address, received a flyer about a meeting regarding the closure of VCFD Station 26.

The flyer notes that the station is moving to the city, and Hendren said such a move would be “like a fire hatchet in the back” of those needing services. 

“It would be a total betrayal,” to those that live, go to school, and even those incarcerated at Todd Road Jail not to have services within what Hendren said is the wide area that Station 26 serves.

“Are you willing to gamble with lives? The county is,” an entity that Hendren said historically has not been a friend of the river valley.

“The county has never been a knight in shining armor to the city…they gave us the jail, they gave us the dump, they gave us a hazardous waste facility,” Santa Clara Waste Water-Green Compass, that exploded in November 2014 including firefighters and the public and causing equipment losses to the SPFD and the VCFD.

Hendren said she supports the SPFD and wants “what is best for all” but VCFD Station 26 should remain open.

“I’m here tonight to reiterate that we still have 100 percent,” of SPFD firefighters supporting annexation, said Chris Mahon, president of the union representing Santa Paula and county firefighters.

He noted the city would have long-term savings and stronger services if the city annexed services to VCFD.

Gherardi asked about a service plan and was told it was forthcoming.

Fire Station 26 she was told by a VCFD spokesman would be moved to Station 82 in Santa Paula but the meeting is “due diligence” before such a decision would be finalized. 

Mayor Jenny Crosswhite asked for more details on costs that would be retained by the city and the impacts of future property tax of the Harvest development upon build-out and questioned the city using financial figures from 2015 for reporting. Easley reiterated that new figures have been requested.

The city has previously said the Harvest would generate up to $1.6 million in property taxes. Of that, $1.2 million would go to the VCFD. Harvest developer Limoneira-Lewis has also allocated $4 million and 1.5 acres for a new fire station at the development.

The council voted 5-0 to prepare the application but Councilman John Procter noted the deal is not done.

“I want to be clear that what we are doing tonight is not the final approval…I’m very much in favor of getting a lot more information as we go along. This is not annexation but an important step.”

The heritage of the 114 year old SPFD will always be maintained said Councilman Martin Hernandez: “We already receive excellent service but this is about helping the firefighters and the city as well.”

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