Council approves VCFPD application but wants added revenue information

April 21, 2017
Santa Paula News

The City Council agreed to move forward on an application to annex the Santa Paula Fire Department to the Ventura County Fire Protection District after a three-pronged presentation, questions regarding costs and revenues and other matters at Monday’s meeting. 

But several, especially Mayor Jenny Crosswhite wanted it made clear that the issue is not a done deal and more study must be done; she also suggested that the council wait until the new city manager is seated.

If the application proceeds and is approved by Local Agency Formation Committee, a foregone conclusion, Santa Paula would be the first city to be annexed to the VCFPD. Others, such as Moorpark, were already covered by county services when they became cities and did not change providers.

Santa Paula would also be the first when it comes to cost: the city will pay the highest percentage of property taxes of any city that participates in the district, 16.5 percent of the 20 percent of each dollar the city receives.  

The amount is roughly 80 percent of what the city nets.

Santa Paula Assistant Fire Chief Mike LaPlant said he was “wearing a different badge” as he summarized the timeline of the annexation process, which began about one year ago.

He again addressed service comparisons, facilities and equipment, personnel issues and fiscal impacts with SPFD Assistant Chief Luis Espinoza handling the annexation process. 

“I realize there is a healthy skepticism,” about the move that LaPlant said he hoped to dispel.

The majority of detail in the service plan will not reach the council until later but LaPlant went over highlights.

For the time being Stations 81 and 82 would remain open — there is property and funds to build a third station off Telegraph near Hallock roads and indications that the council will provide paramedic service and a ladder truck. 

The county has also indicated they will continue community involvement, which he noted is “All part of their business model, they are very good at that and take pride,” in such activities.

The county has a fully staffed fire prevention bureau, and “24-7 investigation services…”

Mayor Jenny Crosswhite asked if staging the annual fireworks show would cost the city more.

“There would be a fee structure,” but LaPlant said on duty engines would standby for safety.

“The fee is waived now,” said Vice Mayor Ginger Gherardi.

The SPFD is a co-sponsor, donating their services for the event as well waiving permitting fees.

LaPlant said he would have to check with the county but there would be no additional charge for fire protection at the event.

He said the VCFPD would also “enhance emergency preparedness,” lease Fire Stations 81 and 82 with a possible purchase of the former.

“I know you have to put together a service plan that goes to LAFCo,” said Gherardi, “when does the city see it?”

LaPlant said the VCFPD “has given us a look at the drafts, I don’t think we’ll see the formal one until the application occurs.”

Crosswhite asked, “At what point in the process would that happen?”

LaPlant said should the application occur it “would happen very rapidly,” although the city has multiple opportunities to back out.

“We would have to look at that with a fine toothed comb,” an opportunity LaPlant said he assumed would occur shortly after the application is produced.

Back to equipment LaPlant said the VCFPD would take the “Light fleet but not likely take the large engines,” as they have different motors than the county’s and would require a specialized mechanic.

When Crosswhite asked about a police substation at the new fire station near East Area 1 LaPlant said, “They are fully aware of that and will address it…”

When she asked about the loss of permit and fee revenue to the city from the SPFD, LaPlant said the county charges less so it would benefit the community overall.

Santa Paula firefighters are a “very clear” priority for the council and LaPlant noted personnel issues are still being addressed. 

Crosswhite, looking at the Power Point presentation that noted the county has “indicated it would make job offers” to present city employees, asked LaPlant, “Indicated — what does that mean?”

“They will pick those people up,” although firefighters would not be automatically hired but rather go through the Civil Service process, background check and a one-year probation period.

SPFD firefighters acknowledge the process, and LaPlant said personnel would be “transfer employees once positions open up…” 

Crosswhite asked if personnel would first have to take the Civil Service exam and other steps in the process, “Then go on a list if they passed all that and would be selected as openings occur?”

The county said LaPlant still has to “go to its board of directors to get nine more positions that would consume all of our 18 positions,” but noted he is “very comfortable” that all SPFD personnel would be hired.

Salaries are much higher for firefighters throughout Ventura County with the VCFPD giving a captain in Santa Paula making $64,180 an 86 percent increase at $119,580. 

“By and large,” salary increases are about 50 percent, which LaPlant said the city would have to consider if they ever wanted out of the annexation.

Costs and revenue took up much time with Crosswhite, after questioning anticipated revenue from East Area 1 and East Area 2 and the Measure T 1-cent sales tax not factored into the numbers presented. In addition, she noted a city RDA payment is scheduled to sunset providing more revenue. 

When those areas are developed there would be a higher service demand that LaPlant said increases in future revenue would cover. 

Espinosa addressed the LAFCo process.

The agency has long been at odds with Santa Paula over canyon development.

He noted that the city and county would both need to adopt resolutions to proceed with the application and “We’re hoping we can get started very soon,” especially as the SAFER Grant, which funds five firefighters, will end in September.

The LAFCo director he noted later is “Very confident of making that September target date if we move forward.”

The service plan is anticipated to be completed “pretty close to when it is presented to the Board of Supervisors then we would bring that to the city to start reviewing.”

Gherardi wanted to make a point clear: “There is no change to the taxes of the public, it would just be a change of service or the color of the fire engine.”

San Bernardino, noted Espinosa, had to implement a property tax for fire services.

The Board of Supervisors will soon be considering their application and Gherardi asked, “Isn’t it more important for the council to act before then?”

“They are prepared to move forward, they want to move forward but they want to see if the city wants to move forward,” he said.

There was only one public commenter, Richard Rudman, who urged the council to receive a more detailed plan, as “This must be explained more clearly to the citizens and voters of Santa Paula, and I consider myself both.”

Councilman John Procter asked about “the best case scenario” time wise if the city does proceed with the application.

Espinosa said if the county and city both submitted applications to LAFCo by the end of May the agency “feels supremely confident that September is not a problem, he [the LAFCo director] was even talking about July,” for the review.

“It would seem to me their analysis would take longer,” said Procter.

The question said Gherardi is not, “Can we afford to do this?” but rather, “Can we afford not to do this, I think that’s the more relevant question.”

Councilman Martin Hernandez said the potential for annexation is the “Biggest decision we’ll make currently…I’m OK with saving money, I really am. But we can’t just look at saving money and sacrificing services,” he said.

The move will save Santa Paula money, he said and get them away from liability issues including “all kinds of risks for accidents,” including fire equipment.

Procter noted how closely the SPFD and VCFPD have worked together including at the “Santa Clara Waste Water tragedy…I’m not saying I’ve made up my mind,” but I must balance several issues involved.

Gherardi made the motion to ask staff to prepare the resolution but Crosswhite balked: “I feel uncomfortable making the decision without having our new city manager in place…I am concerned about the public perception of having our fire chief as interim city manager,” during discussions.  

Procter agreed noting “at this point to me it is not a commitment, I understand what you are saying I will not make a final decision until the new city manager is in place.”

Councilman Clint Garman said the city could pull out of the process but for now “It is prudent to move forward.”

“We need to move forward, but I ask that the county not take this to the Board of Supervisors until this city has acted,” said Gherardi.

Hernandez disagreed noting that although “I am in somewhat support waiting for the new city manager,” if the city does not “start moving we will lose this and have to come up with the extra $500,000 once the SAFER runs out.” 

Gherardi reiterated her desire to have the city act first and have the council hold off until then.

The Board of Supervisors said LaPlant has placed the matter on their May 16 agenda: “The directors would like to see it as well, we came to them. Both agencies know we can stop at any time, know full well we can step away from it,” but “the risk is missing this unique opportunity,” and its review by LAFCo.

“When this comes back, come back with a revised numbers chart,” said Crosswhite before the full council agreed to proceed with the resolution.


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