Lincoln County Elections Clerk Dana Jenkins certified Friday that there are enough valid voter signatures to call for the removal of Central Coast Fire and Rescue District Board Chairman Ray Woodruff from office. It means that if Woodruff does not resign his post within the next five days, a recall election will be held within 35 days after that – the cost of which will be charged to the fire district.
The issue surrounds what Woodruff’s detractors contend is his lack of good judgement in his prominent role in managing the fire and rescue district – especially its budget. Critics complain that it came as a surprise to residents when the district board announced that the fire department’s ambulances were sold without any involvement by the public. And that the district’s ambulance service was being taken over by a private corporation, Pacific West Ambulance Services.
Woodruff contends that the district’s financial troubles began to gradually worsen over the years as the district’s tax rate, established years ago, no longer generated sufficient revenues to keep up with the rising costs for medical equipment, drugs and other aspects of providing higher echelon medical services. In addition there have been escalating costs for fire fighter training and related equipment.
When district ambulances were sold to PacWest, many residents were outraged at what they termed was the sudden sale without proper notification to the public. They’re also upset that a recent tax levy increase was passed, giving the district more operating revenue, but now the ambulances are gone.
Woodruff says costs for running a fire district as sprawling as Central Coast’s, just for firefighters and EMT’s (Emergency Medical Technicians), will use up all of the new higher rate with some margin for a reserve account for emergencies and future equipment purchases. Woodruff has always maintained that the district’s tax rate was too low to get past a certain point on the calendar and that the point was reached recently when the district laid off 4 full time firefighters and sold the ambulances.
But as balanced as the conversation seems, many residents still complain that there was, and remains, a breakdown in communication, if not public confidence in the way the fire rescue district was being run. Many have complained that the district’s slide toward insolvency was not widely known or appreciated. And for that reason alone, a decision was made by a number of citizens to launch a recall election against Woodruff.
Again, Woodruff contends that the fire district meetings were always open to the public and that he had talked about the district’s funding dilemma a lot around town for a very long time.
Was it a case of miscommunications and people weren’t hearing the danger bell ringing or was the district board not ringing the bell loud or long enough?
The answer to those questions will be decided by the voters if Woodruff refuses to step down in the next five days.