City accepts $1.196 million SAFER Grant

PASO ROBLES — Anticipating the passage of Measure J-20, the Paso Robles City Council discussed funding priorities and oversight during a special meeting on Thursday, Nov. 12. Also, the Council approved accepting a 2019 SAFER Grant for $1,196,262.

Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) are distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, “front line” firefighters available in their communities.

The SAFER Grant allows the City to hire three firefighter-paramedics. The funds will cover their salary and benefits for three years. Unlike previous SAFER grants, there is no cost share required by the City.

However, Paso Robles Fire Department Fire Chief Jonathan Stornetta noted the grant requires the City to obtain a third fire engine and build a third fire station. These requirements help the City meet some of the deficiencies identified in the City’s safety survey conducted a few months ago.

In 2019, the City purchased an 8.35-acre parcel at 2930 Union Rd. for $3.425 million on the northeast end of town that will be home to a third fire station, a training center, and a Paso Robles Police Department substation.

The City staff report indicated it would meet the equipment requirement of the SAFER Grant by appropriating $650,000 from the Fire Development Impact Fee Fund for apparatus and temporary station costs.

Although not all of the ballots have been counted from the Nov. 3 election, it appears likely that Measure J-20 will pass. As of the most recent update from the San Luis Obispo County Elections Office, the measure was passing with 56.3%. Less than 5,000 ballots remain to be counted across the County.

Measure J-20 will implement a one-cent supplemental sales tax beginning April 1, 2021, and ending March 31, 2033, unless ended earlier by the voters. The new tax has the potential to generate approximately $10 million each year, according to City staff. 

Funds from Measure J-20 were prioritized toward critical fire, police, and street safety needs.

Each of these departments presented what they would like to use Measure J-20 funds for.

Fire Chief Stornetta outlined the fire departments immediate needs:

  • Enhance staffing to meet national standards and federal regulations.
  • Increase the number of engine companies to meet needed fire-flow requirements.
  • Increase response capabilities to meet current services demands.
  • Staff a third fire station to decrease geographical travel distances and reduce response times.

Instead of immediately asking for more officers, Police Chief Ty Lewis presented a three-year build-out plan that would accumulate to full staffing of 57 officers by the third year. Lewis said it was essential to get community input as the City moves forward.

“Tonight I am refraining from asking for any additional police officers, preliminarily, because as we learned from this process of educating the community and the Council that public involvement is expected as part of our transparency and growth opportunity,” Lewis said.

As for the City’s Streets Division, their immediate need is increasing staff by at least six. This increase in staff will increase production and meet the heavy demand for routine maintenance.

Council indicated to staff that funds would be allocated to fire and police first and then go toward road repair and maintenance.

The City has an oversight committee for Measure N-12, a half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2012 that is used for road projects. Measure N-12 expires after 12 years.

Council approved forming a new citizens oversight committee that will oversee both N-12 and J-20. Up to 17 people may be on the committee, at least one from each voting district in Paso Robles and at least two councilmembers on the committee as liaisons.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles