Fire Tax Bills to Drop in Los Osos, California

Los Osos property owners will pay less for fire protection this year than they did last year, even after voters approved a tax increase and the town's services district boosted its reserve.

In November, more than three-fourths of Los Osos voters approved raising the community's fire tax to $67 per year from $40 per year for a single-family home.

Thanks to savings from contracting CDF/County Fire and higher-than-expected reserves, the Los Osos Community Services District doesn't need as much from local taxpayers.

CDF now requests from the district that it collect $37.70 per single-family home. Against the wishes of the services district's general manager, the agency's board approved the lower levy last week.

"We'll dip into reserves a little bit in 2005-06, but not require as much of a fire tax as originally anticipated," CDF Battalion Chief Phill Veneris said.

District General Manager Bruce Buel had suggested increasing the required fire reserve level to nearly match the current reserve of $669,000.

Had the board done so, the district would have needed to collect the full property tax. Instead, the board increased the minimum reserve level to $500,000 from $375,000.

The district began contracting with CDF for fire protection service on Oct. 1 after disbanding the former South Bay Fire Department.

That move saved about $300,000 a year and left enough extra money to maintain four firefighter-paramedic shifts around the clock.

"We will spend more money than property and special taxes bring in, because we're bringing reserves down," Veneris said. "As CDF was able to get in here and evaluate the budget and restructure it, we were able to generate savings through budget cuts and other consolidation of services."

The district tried to raise the fire tax to $125 a year in 2003, while the former South Bay Fire was under the direction of former Chief Bruce Pickens and service levels were under threat of being cut. That measure was rejected by Los Osos voters.

A year later, in fall 2004, the district tried again and got the increase to a $67-a-year fire tax.

"We fought for a year and a half to get them to see the light," said Richard Margetson, a Cayucos resident who works in Los Osos. "It's a total win for the community.

"It's a better level of service, and the average household is paying $2.30 less."

Next year, the district board will again consider collecting the full amount of the fire tax. Veneris said he wasn't sure how much the department will need then.

Distributed by the Associated Press