Oceano struggling to fund fire services

Facing rolling blackouts or alternating closures of the Oceano and Grover Beach fire stations, the Oceano Community Services District Board plans to discuss how to continue to provide fire and emergency services to the community of 7,600 people.

On Wednesday evening, the board is slated to select one of eight alternatives which include asking Cal Fire to take over the communities fire and emergency services. Staff is recommending the board vote to put a measure on the November ballot for a special tax that would cost each household an average annual rate of $64.34 over the next five years.

Oceano could also choose other options that include reducing their personnel to just two firefighters; reestablishing their own fire station or closing their station altogether and paying the fire authority to respond.

In 2018, 10 California communities voted on tax increases for fire services in California. Of those, four passed and six failed.

Formed in 2010 under the auspices of saving money for the communities of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano, the fire authority is struggling to exist because of funding constraints and increased costs. Funding issues include budget overruns, unfilled positions and health and safety concerns as firefighters work overtime.

In January, the Five City’s Fire Authority Board adopted a five-year plan that could result in a 70 percent increase in the annual budget. In order to implement the strategic plan, all three communities would have to agree to the plan.

In response to the proposed budget increase, Oceano hired Category Five Professional Consultants to analyze the community’s options. The consultant recommends placing the proposed tax on the November ballot. The tax would start at $29.72 and end at $87.66 five years later.

Following the recent failed ballot measure for a annual fire tax of $62.17 in the similarly sized community of Cambria, the consultant noted the challenge Oceano is facing.

Should the tax measure fail, the consultant recommends the board take no further action until the results of a study commissioned by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors into providing fire and emergency services for communities unable to continue funding their departments is available.