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Oceano puts fire tax back on a primary election ballot 

Voters from the Oceano Community Services District (OCSD) might experience déjà vu when they scan their primary election ballot this summer.

Measure A-22—called Measure A-20 when voters rejected it in 2020—is a special tax on all real property in the OCSD. It would be collected to maintain rapid response times for 911 medical emergency and fire services through the Five Cities Fire Authority (FCFA).

Property owners would have to pay a flat parcel tax of $180 that would increase by no more than 2 percent every year. But parcel taxes are notoriously hard to pass because they require a two-thirds majority approval. Measure A-20 received 66 percent voter approval in 2020, 11 votes short of a two-thirds majority.

click to enlarge FIRED UP OCSD board members don't see eye to eye about the fire tax, which would retain Five Cities Fire Authority services, because of its regressive nature. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • FIRED UP OCSD board members don't see eye to eye about the fire tax, which would retain Five Cities Fire Authority services, because of its regressive nature.

"I believe the board felt that it wanted to respect the majority's wishes and give them an opportunity to pass it again in 2022 with Measure A-22," said Will Clemens, the OCSD general manager. "I would guess that if a majority of voters had voted against A-20, the board would not have tried again in 2022."

All OCSD board members, except one, favored the tax. At a Jan. 26 board meeting, board member Cynthia Replogle, who's questioned the fire tax since 2020, tried to put her foot down once more.

"My other question is if this measure again fails, how much does it need to fail by for this board to respect the will of the voters?" she asked.

Fellow board members Karen White and Linda Austin took offense.

"I have no respect for Director Replogle, and I'm not even going to answer that question," replied Austin.

White partly blamed Replogle for the measure's failure in 2020.

"You're looking for answers, one of your answers is what didn't happen last time. You didn't support Oceano. When 66 percent of the registered voters say yes to something, that's not a rejection of our plans," White said.

Replogle responded that she would have voted in favor if the tax was more equitable, to which Austin replied that it wouldn't be "cheaper the other way."

The "other way" is divesting fire service powers to San Luis Obispo County. Some community members complained that they don't know exactly how much more expensive this alternative would be. If Measure A-22 doesn't receive a two-thirds majority, the OCSD would lose at least $1 million in property tax revenue to the county, as well as its fire station. That would enable the county to provide three 24-hour days per week of fire service to Oceano.

Charles Varni, the vice chair of the Oceano Advisory Council and a member of the Oceano Beach Community Association, told New Times that the board never disclosed to the public how much the power divesture would cost residents even after they gave public comments asking for transparency.

Varni said that lower- and middle-class residents would be disproportionally impacted by a flat tax. But the majority of the board rejected a square-footage based tax alternative after receiving a presentation on it during their Dec. 8, 2021, meeting.

"I think that it's really important that Oceano residents have the full story and all the facts. So far, that's not very forthcoming," Varni said.

OCSD General Manager Clemens said it's up to the board's discretion what they provide to the public.

"If the OCSD divests of the power, it would be up to the county to determine what expenditures would be required for them to provide service beyond the three days per week and where they might seek to fund those expenditures from," he said. "They are not willing to speculate on that until such time that the OCSD actually divests of the power." Δ

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