Resolution Fails to Pass
BSFPD Board Vote Split, 2 – 2, to Open Negotiations
Last updated 8/23/2022 at 9:59am
The Borrego Springs Fire Protection District Board (BSFPD) failed to pass the local Resolution of Application, which is the first step in opening negotiations with the County of San Diego and the process of dissolving the local Special District and joining the San Diego County Fire Protection District (SDCFP).
At the District’s Zoom Board Meeting, August 11, the vote to approve the Resolution was tied 2 – 2 with Borrego Board Members, Paul and Elizabeth Reisman, voting against the Resolution, and Chairman Brad Tidwell and Fred Jee, voting to move forward. Annmarie Tidwell, the fifth member of the board, was absent due to illness.
The Resolution lists the terms of the agreement between the County Fire District from the perspective of the Borrego Fire District. The concept, which was approved by a 5 – 0 vote at the previous July meeting, contains the items that were of most interest and concern to Borrego residents that attended public meetings on the local district’s financial crisis.
Examples of mutual agreement are: no new tax increases, the County will add $1.8 million to the local district’s budget; order a new ambulance, restore the capital improvement fund, and move the emergency responder employees to the higher CalFire salary and benefits schedule, among other things; including $18 million to replace the outdated fire station.
In the meantime, Paula de Sousa, attorney for the Borrego Fire District, and representatives from the County Fire District agreed to meet to determine if the changes requested by the Reismans’ would be acceptable to the County. They will make their report and introduce, possibly, a new resolution, at the next meeting September 8, 4 p.m.
Annmarie Tidwell, when asked about her absence, reported to the Borrego Sun, that she, “didn’t realize the importance of being at the meeting,” and “deeply regretted that her illness kept her away.” An earlier vote by the full board approved going forward with drafting the Resolution, which specified the terms and conditions the District is seeking in the County consolidation.
The change in sentiment by both Reismans appeared to be a surprise. It seems that their collective concerns were about the County living up to its obligations and wanted stipulated terms on when and how Borrego tax payers could leave the County District and re-organize Borrego’s special fire protection district.
Elisabeth Reisman stated she, “wanted to see something in the Resolution that allowed for Borrego residents to vote every five years on whether they wanted to stay with the County fire department, or re-organize Borrego’s special district department,” which is funded by taxes on Borrego Springs’ property owners. Paul Reisman, wondered, “If a new district would have to start from scratch, or could a newly, re-organized special fire district keep the new equipment, and budget funded by the County?”
Board Member, Fred Jee, defended the Resolution as written and underlying motivation for joining the county, explaining, “The issue is pure economics. The Borrego District was headed for bankruptcy, if something wasn’t done.”
Adding, “And, the amount of tax increase needed to stabilize the local district would require anywhere from a five-fold-tax increase, to a 10-percent-tax increase, or even more, to locally fund the level of services the County is offering to provide. Most people aware of the issues felt the amount of tax increase needed would not be approved by Borrego Springs’ property owners and voters. This seems especially true when the County is offering both financial stability and sustainability of Borrego’s fire and emergency services at no new costs to residents.”
Paul Reisman also questioned, “Why was the second fire station not in the resolution? The attorneys explained, once again, how the County and LAFCO viewed this issue.
Chief Tony Mecham, head of the County Fire District stated, “I am going to stay positive, and focus on providing services to members of the County Fire District and work toward a positive conclusion of the Borrego Springs’ consolidation,
However, the county representative at the Board meeting expressed disappointment, explaining that, “on good faith” from previous discussions, the County budgeted the new funds for the district, and ordered the new ambulance, which takes four or five months for delivery.
Jim Wilson is a member of the committee of community activists that worked with Borrego Fire Chief, John Hardcastle, on the District’s finances, and also hosted public meetings to advise residents of the two options: A property tax increase or consolidating with the County.
Wilson stated, “The Reisman’s request to revisit staying with CalFire in five years, completely ignores the experience of the other districts that joined CalFire, and are doing better with staffing and equipment than they could have done financing their own district.”
“The community members that attended the presentations approved the transition to CalFire by 98%. The Reisman’s were appointed to the BSFPD to serve the community and they have elected not to do that, so they should resign or be removed from the District Board.”
Bruce Kelley, who spearheaded the movement to address the Borrego Fire District financial and services crisis, added, “After the Board of BSFPD unanimously approved in July, pursuing a resolution to transfer services to County Fire/CALFIRE, I was disappointed that two members of the Board voted against the resolution in their August meeting.”
Kelley added, “There is overwhelming community support for transitioning services. And I was perplexed by the objections of those Board members. One wanted to put in the terms and conditions that the County agreed we Borregans can petition to revisit the agreement in 5 years. We could do that any time enough residents support reverting to funding our own District. And the other, after having voted in July to transition, constantly implied that the Borrego District should be planning to reorganize in the future, rather than focusing on the realities of the present. The July meeting would have been the time to propose reorganization rather than dissolution.”
“Hopefully, the full Board will be at the next meeting and can get back on track,” he noted.
Betsy Knaak, also a member of the citizens’ Steering Committee, commented on the Board’s decision saying, “The tied vote is terribly disappointing. Approximately 98% of the Borrego Springs residents who were informed by the community-wide presentations are in favor of transitioning to San Diego County/CalFire for the long-term provision of services and benefits afforded by the county. The alternatives for Borrego of remaining a local district are either approval of greatly increased taxes or reduced fire and emergency responses due to inadequate budgets for personnel, apparatus, and facilities.”
“There were months of research, questions asked and well answered, presentations, and discussions, including discussions with current BSFPD staff. Individually and collectively, we now want, and respectfully request, that the members of the Borrego Springs Fire Protection District Board of Directors proceed expeditiously with the transition to secure Borrego’s staffing levels, needed equipment, modernized facilities, and the future of our community’s emergency services,” Knaak said.
The August 8 Resolution of Application that was before the Board may be viewed on the Borrego Springs Fire Protection District website. The website also provides the link to the board’s zoom meetings. (Warning it’s not easily accessed). Comments can be sent to: Boardmeeting@Borrego-fire.org