Supervisors Vote to Transfer BSFPD

 

Last updated 11/2/2022 at 11:42am



Wearing hats as Directors of the San Diego County Fire Protection District (SDCFPD), the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Supervisor Jim Desmond’s request to dissolve the Borrego Springs Fire Protection District (BSFPD) and transfer it to the San Diego County Fire Protection District; and to initiate annexation proceedings of the BSFPD service area by the San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).

The item was passed on the “Consent Calendar,” October 11, 2022. (https://bosagenda.sandiegocounty.gov/cob/cosd/cob/doc?id=0901127e80f2372e)

According to Supervisor Desmond’s board letter, “The proposed dissolution and annexation will enhance fire protection and emergency services to all residents and tourists. Borrego Springs has been designated a disadvantaged unincorporated community by LAFCO, and due to the small population and rural area, the BSFPD has been unable to provide the same level of services to its residents as other areas of the county. This includes a reduced level of staff on engines and outdated medical equipment.


“By including Borrego Springs into the SDCFPD, rural residents in our county will have equitable access to emergency services that save lives and protect property.”

At a public Zoom meeting, on August 25, 2022, the BSFPD Board of Directors voted 3 – 2 to support adopting a Resolution of Application to initiate proceedings with the San Diego County LAFCO to dissolve the Borrego Special Fire District and apply for consolidation with the County fire district. Voting in favor of the resolution was Board Chairman Brad Tidwell, Board Members AnnMarie Tidwell, and Fred Jee. The opposing votes came from Paul Reisman and daughter, Elizabeth Reisman


The BSFPD was formed in 1961. Over the years it has found it increasingly difficult to provide the desired, and mandated level of services with the small Borrego Springs tax base and rising costs of operating a modern fire and emergency services district. The majority of emergency calls in Borrego are for paramedic health services. Borrego has a large population of senior citizens and as a tourist destination, the BSFPD has responsibility for protecting large gatherings of tourists on the highways, golf courses, the Anza-Borrego Desert Park, and at large community events.

Unable to pay competitive salaries, the local district found itself unable to recruit and retain trained fire engineers and paramedics. Equipment, including fire truck and ambulances were outdated; and without capitol funds to purchase new ones, the district was operating with outdated equipment, vehicles and the existing fire station.

Community members interested in finding a solution to the district’s financial woes originally formed a committee (Steering Committee) to place a tax increase on November’s general election ballot. In the process of assessing how much was needed to make the district whole, it became clear to committee members that the cost could run ten times the current residential tax of $145. The district board had placed a three% tax increase on the 2018 ballot, which failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority.

The reality of residents voting to pay for a 10% increase, or even lesser amounts to patch a few problems, did not seem likely, given the current economic environment. The “Steering Committee” staffed by Bruce Kelley, then led an effort to advise the community of the options, which in addition to a 6% tax increase, was the opportunity to join the San Diego County Fire Protection District, with no tax increase.

After months of research and dialogue with Chief Tony Mecham and other County fire officials, and BSFPD Captain John Hardcastle, the County offer of adding $7.2 million to the district’s budget; increasing salaries and benefits to CalFire standards; purchasing new medical equipment along with replacements for a fire engine, and two new ambulances; as well as building the outdated fire department building, without raising taxes, was an offer the Borrego Fire District Board could not practically refuse.

After vetting the option with similar, neighboring rural fire districts that had joined the County Fire District, which is managed by CAL FIRE; and presenting their findings to local community groups; the Steering Committee brought the summary of their efforts, including 98% community support to consolidate with the County Fire District, to the BSFPD Board with a request the Board of Trustees dissolve the local special district and join the San Diego County Fire District.

The major concern of Borrego Springs residents was the retention and protection of the current fire department personnel. Assurances from the County, and support from the Borrego Springs’ firefighter’s union made the difference for locals supporting the retention of current firefighter/paramedic employees.

Chief Mecham recently announced at a Supervisor Desmond/Borrego Springs Revitalization Committee meeting that the new fire truck and two ambulances had been ordered. However, it takes a year to get them. The price tag was $900,000 for the fire engine and $550,000 for two new ambulances. The new fire department building, which no longer meets county codes, has been placed in the County’s Five-Year-Capital-Improvements budget.

The October 11 Board letter detailed the fiscal impacts of the annexation of the BSFPD, beginning in 2023 – 24.

These include, but are not limited to: an estimated cost of approximately $7.2 million, in combined ongoing costs of $2.2 million, necessary to provide an equitable level of fire protection and emergency medical services; along with one-time costs (of up to $5 million) associated with the lifetime pension and costs, facilities maintenance and a loan repayment. The BSFPD board had previously taken out a bank loan, with $1.9 million to repay in order to relieve long-term pension liabilities with CalPERS.

The Next Steps:

The LAFCO application will be filed by the end of the month. LAFCO staff will take 90 days to review with the transfer scheduled for a LAFCO hearing sometime in February. LAFCO requires an initial meeting and then a second meeting after 30-day’s notice.

According to Chief Mecham, “We hope to be through the LAFCO process by April, adding, “The two districts have formed a transition team and adopted the following schedule:

October: Getting all the employee records to start the process for transfer to CAL- FIRE.

November: Training review of the employees’ qualifications.

December: Beginning all facility and vehicle inspections.

January – March: Working with the BSFP District on a variety of items

April – June 30: Beginning some elements of transition such as installing County Computers, changing radio numbers, starting to purchase other equipment, developing a facility maintenance plan, etc.”

“The main part during the 4th quarter will be to start orientation training for the employees. This will be done on duty over three months, explained Chief Mecham.

“This is the initial plan and we will discuss it in more detail very soon. Some items will depend on the Board and our ability to work together to get some things done prior to July 1, 2023.”