BSFPD Joins CalFire
Last updated 9/7/2022 at 10:02am
The Borrego Springs Fire Protection District Board (BSFPD) voted 3 – 2 to approve an Application Resolution to dissolve the District and consolidate with the county-wide, San Diego County Fire Protection District (SDCFPD), at a special meeting on August 25 to reconsider the previous vote of 2 – 2, with one member absent, killing the proposal.
The fifth member of the Board, Annmarie Tidwell, who had been absent from the August 11 meeting, made the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Resolution. Annmarie Tidwell joined Chairman of the Board, Bradley Tidwell, and Board member Fred Jee, to move the Resolution forward. Paul Reisman and daughter Elizabeth registered their familial “NO” vote.
Basically, the Resolution Application contains Borrego’s terms and conditions of the dissolution and consolidation, allowing the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to begin the audit of the District’s assets and annexation of the District’s boundaries to the service map of the County Fire District.
At the previous meeting, the Reismans’ had suggested a number of amendments, and were warned by attorneys for both the Board and the County that their recommendations would probably be rejected. However, Paula C.P. de Sousa, the Board’s attorney said, she “would run them by counsel for the County.”
De Sousa, who was responsible for writing the original Resolution per the Board’s dictates at the meeting, explained she had made some minor changes to the Resolutions for the Board to review. The major change was a clarification on the transfer of the District tax passed in 2004. Essentially, the context was that the San Diego Fire District, as the successor agency, would continue receiving Borrego Fire District taxes at the 2004 rate to help subsidize the County’s costs.
The last time voters passed a new tax assessment for the District was in 2004. The tax initiative placed on the November 2018 ballot (Measure PP) by the Borrego District failed to get the required two-thirds vote, despite a 55 – 45 % margin. Failure to initiate and pass meaningful tax increases to keep up with the costs of equipment and salaries, was one of the major reasons for the District’s financial problems.
This measure would have increased maximum rates of Borrego Springs Fire Protection District’s special parcel tax to $225 per year for single-family residences, plus other amounts for other property types. It would have provided $720,000 a year for emergency services personnel, plus allowances for inflation and cost of living increases.
However, as many like Bruce Kelley who studied the actual costs of keeping the district running pointed out, “At today’s costs, Borrego’s small, property tax base just isn’t large enough to finance a modern, full-service fire and paramedic department.”
To fund the benefits Borregans will receive by joining the County Fire District, would require a tax increase of at least 10 times the $145 that single-family home owners are currently paying. This would raise the District tax to $1,450, per-residential property. It would be even higher for businesses, golf courses, commercial properties, and churches.
“Even this incredible tax burden could not build a $14 to $18 million-new-fire station, which the County has already budgeted in its Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan,” Kelley said.
In support of the Resolution, CalFire Local 2881 joined Borrego Springs Fire Fighters Local 4160 in placing ads on Facebook, and mailing fliers to local households, itemizing the benefits of joining the County Fire District, and encouraging the community to support the transition.
- $1.8 to fund competitive salary and benefits
- $1.8 million to retire the PERS unfunded liability loan
- Replace Borrego’s outdated vehicles with a new fire engine at $844,000, and a $278,000-paramedic ambulance
- State of the art medical equipment, and Jaws of Life rescue tool
- Station Alerting upgrade at $40,000
- Increased number of firefighters on duty from four to five (three on the engine) and two firefighter/paramedics on the ambulance
- Replacement of the Borrego Fire Station at $14 – 18 million
- The transition of all Borrego Springs fire personnel to employment with CalFire – retaining seniority, retirement benefits, etc.
Captain Tony Mecham, Chief of the County Fire District, which is managed by CalFire, expressed congratulations to the Board for passing the Resolution and stated that he would be “immediately forming a Borrego-County Fire Team, which will report to Borrego’s Chief, John Hardcastle.”
There was a strong response from locals, providing written comments of support that were read aloud by Chief Hardcastle.
Among the groups and individuals who sent comments to the Board, or that spoke in support of the consolidation were: Brian Lozano, President of the Local Firefighter’s 4061, expressing the support within the Borrego Fire Department; Chief of the Pine Valley Fire Department, who spoke of how things definitely improved by joining the County and how pleased she was that they made the transition; Rebecca Falk’s letter of support passed by the local Sponsor Group; Sarah and Lee Rogers; and letters from the Downtown Revitalization Committee; and the Stewardship Council, both of which had voted to support the consolidation.
The “Steering Committee,” which was originally formed for the purpose of placing a citizen’s tax initiative on the November, General-Election Ballot to increase taxes for the Borrego Fire District. After months of research and crunching the numbers, the Committee realized the amount of taxes needed to fully fund the District as envisioned by the original founders, required, not only a mammoth increase in annual property taxes, but a burden that most Borrego voters could not afford in today’s financial climate, and would, most likely, reject.
This would have left the District with mounting debt, continual downgrading of services, and no relief in sight. The Committee then explored joining the San Diego County Fire District; and discovered that there was a solution to the District’s financial woes. Transitioning to the County’s Fire District was an option the Steering Committee vetted with the Borrego Fire Board, Chief Hardcastle, firefighters, other rural fire departments, and the community.
The Steering Committee, composed of community leaders and activists, wrote a letter to the Board reiterating their findings and asking the District to approve the original August 11 Resolution.
The comments stated, in part:
“Our Steering Committee appreciated that the Board made the difficult decision during its July meeting to apply for dissolution of the District. During your meeting today, we request that you approve Resolution 2022-03 as drafted for the Board meeting August 11. As explained below, we think the amendments, which failed to pass August 11, do not improve the Resolution.
“There is overwhelming support by the community and by the Firefighters Association for transitioning to County Fire/CalFire. There is virtually no community support for paying the level of supplemental taxes needed to replace aging equipment, the Fire house and to pay competitive compensation to our firefighters, especially when the County will provide this and more, without additional taxes.
“The County’s offer, which initially equates to approximately $20 million, guarantees our staff’s jobs, adds three EMT/firefighters, provides staff with CalFire level of pay and benefits, replaces our ambulance and fire engine and will replace our Fire House. The County is also offering to assume responsibility for financed and future pension liabilities that are very significant. That is an offer BSFPD cannot match and is too good to refuse.
“Please do not amend Resolution 2022-03 (as presented August 11) and risk rejection by the Board of Supervisors. The time to consider reorganization of the District has passed, and contradicts the unanimous vote of the Board in July to move forward with Dissolution. Additionally, asking the County to agree that the District can be recreated is unnecessary – Borregans maintain that right. However, Borrego would have to do so. The Board of BSFPD does not have the authority and it is not appropriate for the Board of BSFPD to so obligate the community.”
“Thank you for the opportunity to comment. We request the Board approve Resolution 2022-03 as drafted for its August 11 Board Meeting.”
Following the vote for approval, Chairman Tidwell closed the meeting by thanking the Fire Chief, and Board Members.
Borrego Sun Note:
Members of the Steering Committee deserve credit for all the researching, meetings, and explaining they undertook as volunteers. They took two options to the community for its final decision on whether to raise taxes to keep the District afloat, or join the San Diego County Fire Protection District. Through their work, and the support of the community, they were able to get to the District Board to the point of crafting a Resolution and vote to transfer the District to the County Fire District. Members of the Steering Committee are: Bruce Kelley, Jim Wilson, Betsy Knaak, Dave Duncan, Jim Wermers, Martha Deichler, Rich Pinel, Harry Turner, Captain Jim Higbee, and Israel Ochoa.
Thank you, on behalf of the Borrego tax payers for saving the important emergency services that Borrego cannot live without.
Also, there’s more good news for Borrego firefighters from the state. CalFire firefighters will get three raises in a single year and more time off in a new contract.
While Captain Mecham cannot officially comment until labor ratifies the agreement, he explained, “This has been years in the making to reduce the work week from 72 hours to the industry standard of 56 hours. In 2024, they will go from 12 days per month to 11, and it is suspected in the following agreement to 10. For CAL FIRE statewide, this equates to hundreds of new positions. Fortunately for the Borrego agreement, we planned and budgeted for this with enough personnel (15) to have five on per shift.”