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City Misses Chance to Quit County Fire District : Government: The deadline for Thousand Oaks to secede will pass this week without a vote. While studying its options, it will remain under the current jurisdiction at least through June, 1995.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thousand Oaks officials said they have missed their chance to secede from the county fire district by next fiscal year, as this week’s deadline will pass without a vote on whether the city should establish an independent fire department.

Through June, 1995, at least, Thousand Oaks will remain within the Ventura County Fire Protection District, which runs five stations within the city and three nearby.

In the meantime, city staff members are analyzing Thousand Oaks’ options. Those include forming an independent department, contracting with the district for fire protection services, hooking up to another fire department or continuing with the status quo.

“It’s still very much in a study phase,” Assistant City Manager MaryJane Lazz said. “Things were put on hold for the holiday season.” Lazz said she hopes to present a report to Councilman Frank Schillo by mid-January.

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Schillo, who heads a citizens task force on fire service, would then study those options and present his recommendations to the entire council early next year.

“Everything takes an eternity in government, and I’m never satisfied with the pace,” Schillo said. “I’m trying for (a vote) as soon as possible. It’s not like I’m letting up on the issue.”

To break away from the district by next fiscal year, Thousand Oaks would have had to obtain approval from the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission by Friday.

Property tax allocations are set shortly after the first of the year, so all changes in special district or city boundaries must be in place by Dec. 31. If Thousand Oaks withdrew from the district, the city would get back the tax dollars now sent to the county for fire protection. That money--roughly $11 million a year--would be used to fund a city-run department.

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Thousand Oaks still has a year to petition LAFCO for withdrawal from the fire protection district during fiscal year 1995-96.

Before approaching the commission, city and fire district officials would have to reach agreement on divvying up resources, such as fire trucks and stations. The whole process could take six months or longer, consultant Bob Braitman said.

For now, however, city officials are busy drafting proposals to ensure that Thousand Oaks residents get their money’s worth when it comes to fire protection.

While fire district officials insist that Thousand Oaks receives a fair deal, Schillo has said he believes that his constituents pay for more than they get.

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The fire district’s own statistics indicate that Thousand Oaks taxpayers funnel $11 million to the district each year and receive only $10.2 million worth of services in return.

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Dismissing that apparent gap, fire district officials say they provide many services that cannot be quantified and thus were not included in the financial analysis.

Thousand Oaks benefits, for example, from the district’s expertise in fighting brush fires, fiscal manager Abbe Cohen said. The city also enjoys quick backup response during emergencies from firefighters stationed outside Thousand Oaks. And because Thousand Oaks has a high volume of service calls, the city’s stations often receive the newest, state-of-the-art equipment, Cohen said.

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Still, Schillo believes that his constituents are being shortchanged by at least $800,000 a year.

He has proposed using that money to pay for sprinkler systems in affordable housing projects or in new construction. Fire district codes require sprinklers in any building larger than 5,000 square feet, but Schillo said he would like to mandate sprinklers even for smaller structures.

“Hey, we could have an outstandingly safe community and our insurance rates could go down” if Thousand Oaks residents demand a dollar-for-dollar accounting of their taxes and force the district to boost spending in the city, Schillo said. “There are a lot of little things that will make us a safer city.”

One of those “little things,” Schillo said, would be training Thousand Oaks firefighters as paramedics, since roughly 60% of their emergency calls are for medical problems or unspecified hazardous conditions.

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Schillo recently met with the chiefs of fire departments in Santa Monica and Ventura, both cities slightly smaller than Thousand Oaks, to discuss pros and cons of running an independent department.


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