Source: Valley Roadrunner

Palomar fireboard learns difficulty of going independent

by David Ross

August 07, 2013

The Palomar Mountain Volunteer Fire Department. Saturday morning heard from representatives of LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) about how difficult it will be to separate itself from the County Fire Authority, if it chooses to go that route.

Such a move will require the permission of the Board of Supervisors, who would have to agree to let the department have the property taxes collected from the mountain area which now go into the County General Fund. So said John Traylor and Shirley Anderson from LAFCO (the Local Agency Formation Commission).

To begin the process would require collecting enough signatures from residents or property owners to bring the issue to a vote. Even if local residents vote in favor of the proposals however, the Supervisors would still retain veto power, said Traylor and Anderson.

The board of the Volunteer department asked the LAFCO representatives to brief them on the process of removing Palomar Mountain from the County Service Area (CSA) 135, which the Board of Supervisors created as part of the County Fire Authority (CFA). They then dissolved all of the existing fire CSAs and merged them into CSA 135, giving the CFA the mission of contracting to volunteer fire departments such as Palomar, Julian/Cuyamaca, Ocotillo Wells, Shelter Valley, San Pasqual and Mount Laguna Volunteer Fire Company. They possibly could dissolve some of those volunteer departments.

Like several other volunteer departments, the Palomar department is resisting incorporation into the County Fire Authority because it has led to fewer staffers being assigned for duty. They state that their existing level of service has been compromised in order to spread around staffing to areas that previously had no volunteer departments.

According to Chief Cliff Kellogg of the Palomar volunteers, most weekdays from 5 to 11 volunteer fire stations in the Backcountry have not been manned since the County took over administration.

Chief George Lucia of the Palomar department objects strenuously to the “one size fits all” policy of the County, which has forced volunteers out of the Palomar department, and led to situations where sometimes only one firefighter is on duty at the Palomar station.

Capt. Don Heiser of the CFA, the liaison between the CFA and the volunteer departments, said that the Palomar volunteers should try sitting down with the recently appointed head of the CFA, Kevin O’Leary, who was for many years Cal Fire Battalion Chief for this area.

Heiser said that there has been a change since Ken Miller, who had previously held that post, retired recently.

The volunteers had found Miller to be inflexible to deal with. Heiser said that it was possible that O’Leary would be less so, and suggested that they try one more meeting with him.