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SLO County fire districts look to an uncertain future 

Four of the seven current fire districts in SLO County may not be able to financially sustain themselves in the future.

At a Jan. 15 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, the board decided to create an ad hoc committee with 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson and 1st District Supervisor John Peschong, to work on solutions for special district fire departments that aren't bringing in enough revenue to stay fiscally solvent.

During public comment, Rob Roberson, San Miguel Fire District chief and general manager, said that it's a countywide issue that needs to be addressed.

"The last thing we want to do is come up short or miss a call. You know, dial 911 and no one is available because of lack of revenue," he said.

click to enlarge PUTTING OUT FIRES Four out of seven fire districts in SLO County might need financial assistance in the future. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • PUTTING OUT FIRES Four out of seven fire districts in SLO County might need financial assistance in the future.

Retired fire chiefs Dan Turner and Mike McMurry presented their evaluation of the special district fire protection in the unincorporated areas within the county. The issue isn't unique to the county. Statewide, an increase in training requirements and changing demographics has led to fewer volunteer firefighters. That decrease, in turn, has led to an increased need for paid part- and full-time firefighters, which is more expensive.

Their evaluation looked at the fire districts in Oceano, San Miguel, Santa Margarita, and Templeton, including what would happen if they were to dissolve—in which case fire service would either be provided by the county or default to the nearest Cal Fire station.

If the Five Cities Fire Authority joint agreement falls through in the future, Oceano might have to look into divesting from the district, which could cost the county an additional $600,000.

San Miguel indicated that it's unsure whether it will provide fire service in another five years. Annual staffing and operations for the community's district are estimated to increase by $1.3 million.

Santa Margarita's fire service prospects are also uncertain in the future, and the fire station needs to be replaced. Templeton Fire needs to figure out a way to augment its funding or the district will have to divest, as well. Δ


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