East County-San Miguel merger may solve one fire agency reorganization issue
Last updated 2/7/2008 at Noon
One of the funding-related obstacles to the first phase of reorganizing fire protection and emergency medical services in unincorporated San Diego County is the financial situation of the East County Fire Protection District, which has operated at a deficit for several years.
The progress of a potential merger between the East County Fire Protection District and the San Miguel Consolidated Fire Protection District could remove that impediment.
In January the boards of both fire protection districts approved a merger, which would occur after a study by San Diego County’s Local Agency Formation Commission and approval by the LAFCO board.
If LAFCO approves such a consolidation, the East County Fire Protection District area would likely be removed from Phase I of the reorganization plan.
“That’s what would have to happen,” said Shirley Anderson, LAFCO’s chief of policy. “It’s not automatic. The Commission has to make a finding.”
The East County Fire Protection District was created in 1994 by the merger of the non-contiguous Bostonia and Crest fire districts.
The concept of a regional consolidated fire district includes a promise that the service of better-financed existing districts won’t be sacrificed to increase service elsewhere.
During a November 2006 LAFCO hearing some LAFCO commissioners and staff members feared that inclusion of the East County district’s liabilities would be to the detriment of other agencies while others noted that Phase I focuses on the underfunded districts and unserved areas and saw the East County financial situation as a problem Phase I could resolve when appropriate financing is obtained.
The proposed fire district reorganization is contingent upon a stable funding source.
LAFCO sent the reorganization plan to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors in December, and the Phase I reorganization will be ratified by LAFCO and become official when the supervisors, who will also become the governing body of the consolidated agency which will operate as a County Service Area zone, secure the necessary funding.
Phase I currently includes the East County, Pine Valley, and San Diego Rural fire protection districts and the County Service Areas which provide fire protection and emergency medical services to Boulevard, Campo, Mount Laguna, and San Pasqual.
It also includes all territory not currently served by a fire agency, including areas served by volunteer fire departments but not within the boundaries of a public agency.
The remaining 21 agencies, including the San Miguel Consolidated Fire Protection District and the North County Fire Protection District, will be evaluated in Phase II to determine whether or not consolidation is the most beneficial option.
Due to automatic aid agreements, the San Miguel Consolidated Fire Protection District is currently providing service to the Crest portion of the East County district. The San Miguel district was formed in 1988 by the merger of the Grossmont-Mount Helix and Spring Valley fire protection districts.
The East County Fire Protection District board voted to pursue a merger with the San Miguel district on January 17 while the San Miguel Consolidated Fire Protection District board approved the merger plans January 23.
If the East County and San Miguel merger is approved by the LAFCO board prior to the return of the Phase I reorganization to LAFCO, the East County area would need to be withdrawn from Phase I.
Such a withdrawal would also involve an adjustment of the financial needs data for the county fire agency.
“You’re going to have to take both costs and benefits out,” Anderson said.