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Key Time for Fallbrook

Proponents and foes of incorporation in Fallbrook have one goal in common: protecting the rural life style of the remote North County community of 26,000 in the face of what both acknowledge is inevitable growth.

But agreement ends there.

Advocates of cityhood say that the local control provided by incorporation is the best way to preserve that life style. Opponents say cityhood will accelerate the growth rate.

On June 7, Fallbrook’s 12,000 voters will decide.

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One of the key questions in any incorporation election is whether the new city--or town, as Fallbrook would call itself--can afford to set up its own government and provide the necessary services. The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), the government body that makes that determination, says Fallbrook can make it--if it budgets closely.

So the campaign has become a war of numbers. But one mathematical argument stands out and argues in favor of incorporation now. This is the last year that state law will require the county to pay for the first year of expenses of a new city, which would save Fallbrook $1.4 million.

The county’s substantial loss--at a time when it can ill-afford it--would be Fallbrook’s gain, and could be the difference that makes a difference in the cityhood debate. A dispensation from first-year expenses would give Fallbrook a projected surplus of $2.2 million at the end of the first year, a healthy pad.

The second year’s surplus would be only $674,489, however. Plus, the city would have to absorb the cost of services to an additional 10,000 residents over the next eight years before receiving an increase in state funding. The figures point out why city officials would have to budget closely. LAFCO made it clear that Fallbrook residents should not expect a significant increase in services.

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While substantial increases in services may not be possible, incorporation could prevent the possibility of a decrease in services in the face of the county’s growing fiscal crisis.

But the principal benefit of incorporation would be local control of land-use decisions. Not that the county has been insensitive to local desires. Last year, at the request of Fallbrook residents, the county down-zoned parts of the community to allow no more than one house per 2 acres.

But what Fallbrook residents seem to want is more than zoning and growth controls.

People on both sides of the incorporation argument say that what they treasure about Fallbrook is the quiet, the slower pace, the lack of ostentation and formality and the privacy that rural life allows. Such reprieves from urban living are increasingly rare and may be impossible to preserve. But, since Fallbrook residents share the dream, they should approve incorporation and give themselves the best chance at preserving it.

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