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San Miguel declares fiscal emergency 

Two things were true of San Miguel on the evening of March 13: Its Community Services District declared a fiscal emergency, but not without a fight—or the Sheriff’s Department.

The San Miguel Community Services District Board of Directors gathered for a last-minute special meeting to address its budget. There was one item on the agenda; newbie General Manager Rene Salas asked the board to declare a fiscal emergency. Salas replaced former general manager Mike Ellison, who died July 26, 2011.

The board voted 3-2 (directors Gib Buckman and Richard Harrison dissented) to declare a fiscal emergency, impose a wage freeze for the next three years, and allow Salas to begin reviewing other cost-saving measures, including reduction in retirement benefits for fulltime district employees, reduction in wages, and potential layoffs. The district has three fulltime employees.

But the decision wasn’t without its fireworks. Before the board took its vote, several members of the public accused the district of embezzlement, of violating the Ralph M. Brown Act, and of spending money it didn’t have (the district bought two vehicles for its fire department for about $500,000).

One resident yelled at Harrison, the board’s president, “your arrogance is unbelievable!”

Harrison shot out of his chair, slammed his gavel heavily on the table, and said the meeting was adjourned. He then asked for someone to call the Sheriff’s Department. Two deputies arrived at the meeting, but seemed annoyed by the call.

“We’re not going to come in and regulate how San Miguel CSD board meetings are run,” one deputy said as board members and residents met to discuss the incident.

They discussed the possibility of bringing a deputy to future meetings, that are expected to be contentious. The CSD is scheduled to meet again on March 22.

The board reconvened briefly to take its vote.

Some members of the public said the move to reduce pay and potentially to lay off employees was unnecessary and possibly retaliatory. Salas and board members, however, said the district is simply unable to pay its bills—despite imposing other cost-saving measures at its Feb. 23 meeting—due to a continuing five percent decline in tax revenue.

The district is hoping to maintain a 10-to 20-percent reserve fund (San Luis Obispo County, on the other hand, has a 4 percent reserve in its current budget).

Members of the San Miguel Fire Department, which is volunteer-run, attended the meeting in force. Fire Chief Rob Robertson said the proposed cuts amount to an 18 percent pay cut for employees.

“The kind of cuts we’re talking about, and putting them on the back of employees, is going to force them out,” he said.

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