Santa Paula: Ventura County Fire Protection District Enigma

By Sheryl Hamlin

Santa Paula City Council heard presentations from three officers of the county and city fire fighters. Presenters included: Luis Espinosa (Assistant Fire Chief SPFD), Michael Laplant (Deputy Fire Chief Ventura County Fire Protection District), Mark Lorenzen (Chief, Ventura County Fire Protection District).

The complete council packet for the April 17, 2017 meeting can be downloaded here. At the time of this writing, no video was available for the meeting.

Highlights from the presentations and discussion follow here.

How much will this cost?

The VCFPD Powerpoint was presented by Mike Laplant. The cost comparison slide was the slide most discussed.

Source: VCFPD Cost Comparison Graph

The top two lines show the two options for the City of Santa Paula continuing to own and operate the Fire Department, while the bottom line is the estimated cost of the annexation with the VCFPD. Mayor Crosswhite noted several problems with the graph: 1) the costs did not include East Area 1 or East area 2 properties, whose assessments would drive up the city’s VCFPD allocation as well as the city’s ownership and 2) the bottom line did not include property turnover, but merely assumed a 2.2% rate of increase based on Proposition 13 limits.

County TRA Reports Not Included in Analysis

At a previous meeting, Chief Araiza had introduced the County’s TRA Reports (Tax Rate Assessment) reports which he provided as handouts. A previous report shows how the county uses the TRA reports to compute distributed allocations of the city’s property tax.

To see the city’s six most recent annual TRA reports click here.

A simple graph shows the ‘Current Year Allocation’ to the City of Santa Paula and two calculated lines representing what the top line would have been if the City had been a member of the VCFPD during these years: a) payment to VCFPD and b) residual to the General Fund.

Graph of County TRA Totals for Santa Paula

Note that the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is 3.9%, which is considerably higher than the 2.2% used in the VCFPD forecast shown in the staff presentation. This graph does not include the East Area I and II properties.

Click here to download raw data for above graph.

East Area I and II

The staff report provided a Limoneira/Lewis schedule of home buildouts. It is important to understand that 638 lots of Haun Creek are to be finished by December 2019, 490 lots of Foothill neighborhood are to be completed by December 2021 and 369 lots of the Santa Paula Creek neighborhood are to be finished by December 2022. The valuations should produce step function increases in the forecasted cost of belonging to the VCFPD as well as to the city’s cost of ownership.

LAFCO Analysis and Approval

According to Chief Espinosa, LAFCO will start the 60 day review of this process on May 16th. VCFPD has agreed to assume all of the estimated $15,000 to $20,000 in fees to LAFCO. LAFCO will analyze the submittal and, according to the presenter, LAFCO will determine if joining the VCFPD is in the city’s best financial interests. LAFCO should have direction from the council before commencing this work.

Click here for a flowchart of the LAFCO approval, notification and protest process.

Measure T?

The VCFPD presentation said there would be no effect on Measure T. However, Mayor Crosswhite astutely noted that funds from Measure T would be needed to pay the VCFPD when the costs to the district exceeded that which the city budgets for fire protection.

Citizen Comments

Richard Rudman spoke in Public Comments saying that the presentation still lacked clarity. He suggested more financial analysis and a “Stay versus Go” chart.

Council Comments

The council commented during and after the presentations.

Council Member Procter asked if this involved Proposition 218, to which the Chief Espinosa said no because there were enough funds to cover the costs without an additional parcel tax. He cited an acrimonious situation in the County of Santa Clara involving a protest vote. There is currently a protest vote for a fire annexation (not discussed) in San Bernardino County. Citizens will be able to attend the LAFCO meeting and protest as well as in writing.

Council Member Hernandez asked to clarify the transfer of personnel between the city and the VCFPD, to which two different responses were given. One respondent said the city’s employees would be reviewed and placed on a list for first consideration when a position arose; however, Chief Lorenzen said there would be no lists, but applications would have to pass a background check and a civil service exam. There was no mention of fitness or age requirements.

Mayor Crosswhite asked why the city was not receiving its full allocation shown in the TRA report, to which Sandra Easeley, Finance Director, said that the former Redevelopment Agency took about $600,000 for debt service and this would continue through 2024. Note that this was NOT mentioned in the previous report to the City Council RDA Dissolution Report and in fact conflicts with that report.

Vice Mayor Gherardi asked “can we afford not to do it?” while Council Member Hernandez said that the huge pay increase the fire fighters will receive could never be accomplished if the city continued its ownership. Nothing was mentioned by either the VCFPD or the council about the effect on the county’s pension obligations which are approaching a dangerous level of 10%.

Council Member Hernandez stated that one advantage of joining the VCFPD is a relief from liability suits involving the fire department. He also reiterated that there will be a savings, a point which was clearly not proven by the staff presentation.

The council agreed to bring back a resolution for consideration by LAFCO. The vote was unanimous. According to City Attorney Cotti, a version of this resolution is in progress.

For more information about the author visit Sheryl Hamlin dot com.

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3 Responses to Santa Paula: Ventura County Fire Protection District Enigma

  1. Sheryl Hamlin April 19, 2017 at 8:28 am

    City lives on grants.

  2. Sheryl Hamlin April 18, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    A huge point made by one of the presenters was that the SP annexation is the first of its kind where VCFPD converts or consumes an existing FD. Clearly this means more review.


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