TEMPLETON — Fire Chief Bill White is trying to do what is best for the community without asking them to loosen their purse strings, yet.
“For the past three years I have tried my best to figure out a way, and work with the county, to have a sustainable and reliable fire service,” White said. “And that means that it is properly funded and providing the community 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week fire protection.”
White said Templeton Fire and Emergency Services needs approximately $500,000 for adequate 24-hour coverage and he has a plan for getting the funding.
White is trying to get the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to increase its property tax allocation to the Templeton Community Services District from 8.4 percent to 12 percent.
“When the district was formed in 1976 that was when our property tax allocation was implemented and that was 8.4 cents on the dollar,” White said. “So for every dollar you pay in property taxes, we only see in Templeton 8.4 cents of it — to run everything that the district is expected to run.”
Templeton receives $1.6 million in sales tax revenue, but that funding is not allocated to help with providing fire protection or with parks and recreation services.
The fire department’s funding is carved out of the property tax allotment from the county. The 3.6 percent increase amounts to $457,000 and would allow Templeton Fire and Emergency Services to substantially increase its service — namely add more full-time staff and allow for 24-hour coverage of the station, which is especially critical during the busy fire season.
Currently TFES has one fire station, a half-time fire chief, two full-time firefighters, 25 paid-call firefighters, two fire engines and one patrol, one breathing support unit for a district that covers 7.7 miles.
Each year on average, the department responds to between 785 and 911 calls.
“To date we are already at 532, we are probably going to be over 1,000 by the end of the year,” White said on Monday, July 23.
White reported to the TCSD board that from June 1 through July 7 of this year, 16 nights were not covered, and of those nights there were five emergency calls that were covered by neighboring cities.
White said he’s trying to get the county to adjust the amount of property taxes that people already pay, rather than ask them to pay more.
“I didn’t want to ask people to pay more, I just wanted what they pay to be allocated differently to us,” White said. “Unfortunately our efforts have really fallen on, and I hate say, deaf ears, because it is a good quote.”
North County Supervisors John Peschong and Debbie Arnold, White said, have been supportive of his efforts, but Templeton needs more votes. The county has asked Templeton and other unincorporated fire departments to take part in a fire study.
“We would need to get a majority of the board members to agree to some sort of a fix, and this isn’t just Templeton’s fix, this study is going to be looking at all of the unincorporated fire departments because we are all under the same challenges,” White said. “We only get property tax that is our sole revenue source.”
The county is dealing with the Cayucos Fire Department’s dissolution due to inadequate funding and as a result of that and other departments’ funding concerns initiated the study.
Templeton has agreed to take part in the study, but White is worried about its focus.
“The problem with the study, and this is our take, is that it is not a road map to succeed as an independent district, it is what to do if we fail,” White said. “It’s more of if Templeton decides to do what Cayucos is in the process of doing, how are we going to absorb those services.
“Our point of view is that for $457,000 we can stay whole. It’s taxes the community already pays for; we won’t bug you anymore,” he added.
Easier said than done from the county’s perspective. White understands that if the county makes the adjustment Templeton is seeking, other areas will be asking for the same.
“It’s a valid point,” he said. “And the precedence would be that if they did give us money, then everybody else would have their hands out and they would want money. Where is this money going to come from.”
If nothing changes, White said they will have go to the voters and seek a parcel tax or a voter-approved tax.
“We think that if the county doesn’t come back with a remedy to this problem the we are going to be forced to ask the voters,” White said. “And if the voters say no, they have spoken and we go with it.
“Templeton more or less would have to close its doors,” White said.
At which point the city would most likely have to rely on neighboring cities and Cal Fire. White said Templeton would be relying on Cal Fire Station 30, which is off of Ramada.
“Station 30 has a huge response area,” he said. “They could be all the way up in San Miguel, they could be in Park Hill. If somebody is having a heart attack across the street in the (Templeton) park, my next engine could be from 46 at the Meridian Station, it could be from Park Hill Engine 40.”
White and the Templeton Community Services District are doing what they can to get the word out via “Save Templeton” bumper stickers, a sign out in front of the district office and talking with people.
“It’s a little bit passionate for me,” White said. “I want to see this department succeed. We have gone through this for so long, we just need to close it, we just need to close the loop.”