TEMPLETON — Templeton Community Service District (TCSD) employees wearing their public servant hat, or in this case fire helmet, aren’t allowed to campaign for the community’s Measure A, but off-duty they’re free to support the cause, which the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses are backing to “Save Templeton Fire.”
Mail-in ballots are being sent out by the end of July for a special election asking residents in the TCSD boundaries to approve a new parcel tax, starting at $180 per year, which the language approved by the TCSD’s board notes will be used to expand fire protection services from the current nine hours per day to 24 hours and improve response times to 911 emergency calls.
The estimated $486,000 raised, with an annual Consumer Price Index increase capped at 2 percent, would then be used for labor costs to professionalize the traditionally volunteer department.
“The volunteer structure has had challenges since the early 2000s,” said TCSD Director Jeff Briltz, who provided background information for a “Yes on A” presentation for the Chamber of Commerce at the Templeton Tennis Ranch on July 15. “We [have the funds to] maintain our buildings and equipment, our vehicles, but we can’t pay our people. This is to pay for a full-time staff to man our station.”
The reason the campaign is being billed as a bid to save the 120-year-old department comes in part from changes in the requirements demanded of volunteers and part-time employees to have the same life-saving qualifications as full-time emergency personnel in the state.
A stipend program which offers $60 per night for someone to stay through the station’s off-hours and field any service calls might seem like a good deal for anyone looking for extra spending money, but doesn’t work for emergency professionals who’ve invested heavily in their education, and often fill the post after working full-time in another jurisdiction, Briltz explained after his informational PowerPoint slides were exhausted.
Careful not to speak for the board as a whole, he said he perceived that the general attitude by members in placing the ballot question up for a vote was. “if we can’t do it right we should get out of the business.”
Response times were lengthened for calls last year he added, on the occasions when a local person could not be found to man dispatch in Templeton.
“I’m here because I am allowed to come out and say ‘Yes we do need this’,” said Templeton Chamber of Commerce CEO Jessica Main, who wore a red campaign t-shirt along with her staff and event volunteers, “time is tissue, those response times do matter.”
The adage, which typically refers to the loss of heart tissue function as a correlation to minutes without medical intervention during a heart attack, also applies to stroke and accident victims and, Main added, injuries on the sports field.
After moving her family to Templeton from Atascadero, which has multiple stations serving the City for standardized response times, Main said she was worried that the difference between six minutes for paramedics to arrive and ten minutes if relayed through Cal Fire, was not trivial.
Templeton is not the only agency in the County facing a funding crisis. While, Briltz said, closure of the station or absorption into Cal Fire would not take place likely for two years, there is not a solution forthcoming in negotiations with the County directly.
The state-run Cal Fire engine company working out of southern Paso Robles is also one of the busiest in the area, he said, meaning that the cost-neutral option available to the County to simply contract out the service would result in delays for service calls.
Residents against the measure were not forthcoming in a walk around the community’s center, where ‘Yes on A’ signs are prominently featured, but arguments against the measure’s collection mechanism are easy to see in that the flat $15 a month fee applies to all taxable parcels in the TCSD, regardless of current property use or history of service calls.
A two-thirds majority vote of the returned ballots is required for the measure to pass, as the TCSD cannot arbitrarily assess new taxes on their own, Briltz said. A survey circulated in May returned an 80 percent positive response in principle, “once people were educated about the facts,” he said.
Ballots are due back by Aug. 27.
The campaign will hold another informational meeting July 29 at 6:30 p.m. in the Founders Pavilion at Twin Cities Community Hospital.