Santa Paula: Council Approves Fire District Annexation MOA

By Sheryl Hamlin

The April 10, 2018 Santa Paula Council meeting to discuss the Ventura County Fire Protection District annexation Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was populated with many uniforms and a few citizens.

City Attorney Cotti explained that the annexation per se had already been decided and approved in concept. The exercise for tonight’s meeting, he said, was to review the MOA which must be in place prior to the next steps: LAFCO hearing and Supervisor approval. To download the MOA, click here.

Mayor Gherardi then asked City Manager Rock to present two items: 1) a comparison of the FY 17/18 budget with and without fire and 2) an overview of the MOA itself, which was a product of the subcommittee consisting of City Manager Rock, Vice Mayor Garman, Mayor Gherardi and Attorney Cotti. The Mayor said the first item was important because of the “confusing” information in the newspapers. She did not elaborate if her concerns emanated from faux news or simply too many numbers.

The Rock Report on Finances

The pie charts were projected from the chamber computer, but were illegible, as were those in the staff report. The chart below was produced from the data in the staff report. Click here for the video and staff report. For just the council packet, click here.

The revenues and expenses for FY 17/18 are compared with and without annexation. With annexation, there is a savings projected. Council Member Crosswhite questioned if all of the expenses and revenues had been taken in to consideration. City Manager Rock said that actually, there was another $235,000 in Workers’ Compensation to be saved when the firefighters are transferred and eventually a savings in insurance liability when the two buildings are transferred (one sold and one leased).

With only one year, no conclusion can be drawn about future budgets. Read this article to understand the financial forecast compiled by former City Manager Mike Sedell and Finance Manager Frank Castania. This complex model had dozens of assumptions which varied through 2033. Three scenarios were considered: 1) retain fire at 90% county salaries (pink line), 2) status quo (grey line) and 3) transfer to VCFPD (blue).

During the presentation, City Manager Rock insisted that the Motor Vehicle In Lieu of Property Taxes were secure, because every city in California depends on these. Read about those taxes here that resulted from a 2004 deal made by former Governor Schwarzenegger. Here is an excellent article about the AB8 TRA (tax Rate Allocation) process which is how the .165 to VCFPD will fit into the stack (piechart). Note that the VLF swap has been amended once which affected cities in several counties, as reported here.

The Rock Report on the MOA

City Manager Rock reported that the MOA resulted from nine months negotiating with the county and “covers deal points discussed for the last year” as shown below. The subcommittee members were City Manager Rock, Vice Mayor Garman, Mayor Gherardi and City Attorney Cotti. Rock reminded that the Board of Supervisors must approve after the LAFCO protest hearing on April 18th, 2018. The protest form is available here for submission. To date, there have been thirty (30) petitions submitted. 

-The construction of two new fìre stations providing for enhanced fìre service;
-The provision of two Type-1 fire engines to replace outdated fìre engines;
-The provision of a wildland fìre engine designed specifically to fight brush fires;
-Access to two new Fire Hawk helicopters;
-Access to full-time professional arson investigators. the regional HazMat team ancd the regional urban search and rescue team;
-Àccess to the Fire District’s Regional Training Centcr;
-The Fire District’s agreement that the City shall receive any costs recovered for loss of its fire engine and cquiprncnt destroyed in responding to the Santa Clara Waste Water incident.

Rock reiterated that “fire district will pay all costs” of the items described previously. Note that the City of Moorpark wrote to LAFCO at the November 15, 2017 meeting. Moorpark said that Santa Paula’s revenue will never cover the shortfall in the VCFPD costs suggesting the City of Santa Paula should have a facilities fee, as applied in other cities in the district. Below is a snipped from the Moorpark letter to LAFCO.

Source: Moorpark Letter LAFCO 11/15/2017

Public Comment

Jack Pitluk, Santa Paula Chamber CEO, said that giving up an icon of the city is a decision about which no one is happy, but there are no good alternatives. He would oppose another “bond”.

Vernon Alstot, retired Battalion Chief City of Ventura Fire Department said the issue is sustainability pay hoping that nothing would happen to Santa Paula as devastating as the damage to his home town Ventura during the next major fire.

Jim Tovias, former council member, mentioned future pension costs as problematic citing the City of Stockton where bondholders got pennies on the dollars for their investment in the City of Stockton. He also cited the League of California Cities pension report warning about rising pension costs. Estimates suggest a 2025/2026 statewide crisis due to cities’ inability to pay the pension costs. He also spoke of a past proposal to run the fire department for $2 million without giving details.

Judy Rice, former City Clerk, said she like the SPFD, but did not like the 79%. If Adams and Fagan are not developable, what happens after East Area 1? Note that Chief Lorenzen stated to LAFCO that the canyons are too expensive to maintain. Why isn’t the City of Ventura joining VCFPD? Why is Limoneira not complaining about the loss of the fire station? The annexation should go before the voters.

Steve Smead, local businessman and native, council is not looking out far enough in the future. He cited Thousand Oaks who cannot get out of the deal and is paying millions based on the same formula. Once the city gives away the land, equipment and staff, there is no out, no way to return. With only one sewer rebate, the purchase of the WWTF was a disaster. Sales tax monies not well spent. Let voters decide.

Chris Mahon, union representative, disagrees about the cause of Stockton’s bankruptcy saying it was the city’s location and the recession that caused the bankruptcy. Read what the Stockton City Manager said about the bankruptcy. He said the budget shown in the Rock Report above does not adequately represent all of the costs of fire. The City of Santa Paula will achieve savings through annexation, he claimed. Firefighters are in agreement with annexation, he said.

Anthony Ferreira, five year resident of Santa Paula, said the deal was a “big give away”. Who was looking out after Santa Paula? Why review in five years? What does Santa Paula get from the other .80 of the TRA pool, saying he does not see the results of the other distributed taxes.

Council Discussion

Council Member Crosswhite asked about the ladder truck. Chief Lorenzen responded saying that after the MOA is agreed, all equipment will be reviewed. She then asked about the fire museum and the 1927 Seagrave. Chief Lorenzen responded saying that if they could build on the 10th Street lot, they would make a small, historic museum to contain the Seagrave as a memorial to the department founded in 1902.


Santa Paula Fire Station 2018

Council Member Crosswhite asked about Section 3C, which does not guarantee a location for the stations to be built. She also asked about the historic value of the building and who would adjudicate. Chief Lorenzen said it is their goal to have two stations within close proximity of each other. Attorney Cotti answered the second question saying that the county would be the lead agency on the construction, which would require CEQA including a historic review. Note that the building was designed in 1934 by Robert Raymond and is listed as a contributing building in the Downtown Historic District, a report written in 1995 and approved by the State Office of Historic Preservation. Finally she asked about the police substation in East Area 1 that was originally planned to be part of the now deleted firestation in EA1. City Manager Rock said that Limoneira will provide at no or low cost some space in the commercial area.

After Council Member Crosswhite asked City Manager Rock to clarify the pension issue. He responded saying that the city would lose the unfunded payment for the 18 employees to be transferred, as well as the potential of retirement healthcare costs, if they were to have retired directly from the city. The next component is the retirement component, wherein the payment is based on the difference between the highest final salary and the salary when the employee is transferred for which the city will be required to pay and will be billed by PERS. The county retirement system has reciprocity with PERS. He reiterated that the city loses the liability for the 18 employees as well as the active PERS costs. Injuries if determined to have existed at Santa Paula (pre-existing condition) could become the responsibility of the city. Note that this explanation of the retirement liability calculation is different than that given by Mike Sedell.

The Residual Redevelopment Property Tax Fund was the next question from Council Member Crosswhite. City Manager Rock said that under Redevelopment, the tax increment agencies also get a slice of the RDA. Santa Paula’s slice is quite small, roughly 20%. Note that the Redevelopment “bump” to the payment to VCFPD is shown in the Sedell/Castania graph in 2025.

John Procter asked about the transition and the old station possibly reverting to the city. Chief Lorenzen said their desire would be to build a building with a “historic aesthetic” to blend with the downtown. He is not sure if the station has historic value and yes, it would revert to the city if not used. Station 81 is too small for some apparatus, said Lorenzen, but they could expand on the footprint possibly and add another two or three stories.

Martin Hernandez, getting angry, asked why the public doesn’t understand what a great deal this is? The city is getting three times its investment ($4 million from Limoneira and $1 million for the land). Employees are working in sordid, unsafe conditions. Santa Paula is lucky, he said, to be able to do this deal by giving away EA1 monies and land. Property tax never pays for city services, he said, the real money is in the sales tax. He said this would protect our neighbors and firefighters. Note, there is nothing in the MOA guaranteeing the SPFD firefighters a job in Santa Paula. Council Member Hernandez thanked everyone who worked on this. City staff worked hard fighting for the city in the deliberations.

Clint Garman agreed with Martin Hernandez. He then asked City Manager Rock to clarify the $4 million from Limoneira in the Development Agreement. Note there is a grant deed in the packet giving the county the 1.5 acres in EA1 slated for the fire station. There was no one from Limoneira present to opine on this transfer.

Mayor Gherardi said she is convinced that county will change its funding formula for fire service because of the Thousand Oaks issue. John Procter said the costs are almost the same and that his grandfather helped bring the first commercial fire station here.

Council Member Procter mentioned the “predictability” of this agreement as an asset.

Council Member Crosswhite reiterated the misslng language about the Seagrave, the missing language about location of the new stations and the result of the deal in twenty years when Measure T sunsets.

The vote was 4-1 in favor with Council Member Crosswhite against.

For more information on author click sherylhamlin dot com


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One Response to Santa Paula: Council Approves Fire District Annexation MOA

  1. Sheryl Hamlin April 12, 2018 at 9:11 am

    $2.2 million reflects transfers from Enterprise funds.

    Reply

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