In an amazing synchronistic dance, the SLO New Times ran as their cover story an exposé of the wacky world of Community Service Districts within the county of San Luis Obispo County a week ago – that which a handful of people is proposing for Big Sur, without the specificity of what services such a district would be providing.
It is a fascinating look at just how wrong things can go when a small quasi-governmental agency is created in an unincorporated area of a county. It sometimes becomes a fiefdom.
Here I provide some excerpts from the article, with a link to the full article at the end of this post.
“A world all their own
Local Community Service Districts are wild, unwatched, and completely wacky
BY MATT FOUNTAIN AND ROBERT A. McDONALD
” … CSDs represent small communities that aren’t big enough to be towns. There are 11 such districts in SLO County, and they encompass most of the unincorporated communities. CSDs are a lot like towns, except they do a lot less. They usually take care of water and sewer services, though some districts do more and some don’t do even that much….
“State law requires CSDs to audit their books once a year and send the results to the county assessor and California State Controller. A 2007 study conducted by the county found that most of the districts didn’t send audit reports to either.
“Gere Sibbach, the county auditor-controller, said two CSDs—Oceano and San Simeon—haven’t turned in audits in two years. Seven other CSDs were more than a year late in turning over their audits for the last fiscal year. He said he finds this disturbing, but there isn’t much he can do.
“’All we can do is write them letters,” Sibbach said. ‘There is no enforcement mechanism to make them comply with the statute.’
“State law once gave counties the authority to make CSDs keep their finances in order, but that was rescinded years ago, he said.
“The county does have a role in the district finances; it collects property taxes and sends a portion of that back to the districts, Sibbach said….”
A number of the CSDs are discussed in the article, many with fiscal irregularities ranging from monies that cannot be accounted for to criminal embezzlement. Most appear to have woefully inadequate accounting practices. Others, like Cambria’s Special District, have exceedingly high-paid administrators, that must be bought out when fired.
“Perhaps no recent tale highlights the sheer wackiness a CSD is capable of than what went down in Cambria over the last few months. If ever there was an example of a small community raising the torches and pitchforks against its own CSD chief administrator, Cambria may be it. In fact, it could become a textbook case study of how not to manage a services district.
Tammy Rudock, the wildly unpopular former general manager for Cambria’s CSD, was fired from her top spot April 29 due to long-smoldering resentment of her astronomical pay and cushy benefits, dissatisfaction with the district’s customer service, and her reputation as an über micromanager.
“Then there was the issue of pay. For administering one of the smallest communities in the county, Rudock had the largest salary of any CSD manager—and even gave SLO City Manager Katie Litchig a run for her money, when comparing per capita pay.
“Since her contract was renewed in July 2007, she was reeling in a whopping $166,538—actually $231,000 including health and other benefits—per year. Rudock also enjoyed such perks as phone compensation, gas allowances, and a housing allowance to live in Cambria—all to manage the services of a town of roughly 6,500 residents.
Residents also frequently complained about Rudock’s salary and perks, especially given the fact that district office hours are limited to 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and calls to Rudock regarding service were allegedly met with rudeness or sometimes ignored completely.”
If you think a CSD is a good idea for Big Sur, read this article first, and see if that changes your mind. Maybe it will change the very few proponents’s minds. If not, ask them what specific services this CSD will provide us that the county is not already providing or which we are not already providing for ourselves? Are they services we need and that we are willing to pay higher taxes for? Or are they services a CSD is even capable of addressing? Or is it just an amoeba that will change shape and color with the whim of its proponents?
From what I have gathered in discussions with others, this is an idea that only a handful of very vocal people are interested in pursuing. Frankly, I think it was dead upon conception, but has been hanging around waiting for a proper burial. Let’s bury this puppy and put our creative juices into the many more worthwhile projects already in existence. If you have time and/or money on your hands, donate either to the Health Center, the BSVFB, the Library, HML, the local schools – Captain Cooper and Pacific Valley, Coast Property Owners Association, the South Coast Community Land Trust, the Historical Society, the Grange, the Round-up, or submit an article to be published here. Become active and participate in the Big Sur Multi-Agency Advisory Council, your local LUAC, or other agency of choice. It is not like there aren’t plenty of resources already needing your money and time. Find one that suits you and jump in.
Read the entire article here: A World of their own