If there ever was an idea whose time has come, it's formation of a community services district for the town of Tuolumne.
Even under the best of circumstances, consolidating districts now responsible for fire protection, sewer services, parks and recreation and cemeteries makes a lot of sense. Why have several boards and agencies when one can do the job?
Twain Harte saw this logic 15 years ago, when members of its water,
fire and park boards all voted unanimously - and with nearly unanimous
public support - to merge.
Making such a merger even more urgent in Tuolumne is that it is hardly amid the best of circumstances.
Its fire district is in disarray: Three of its directors were
forced out because they did not live in the district. Replacements were
hurriedly appointed, but the new board has already made waves by
reinstating former chief Ben Oyarzo as a captain at a hurriedly called
Labor Day meeting. The move has already spurred a number firefighters
The Tuolumne City Sanitary District's questionable deal with the
Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians over service to the tribe's Black Oak
Casino has spawned months of controversy over who was responsible for
the agreement and how millions of dollars in potential revenue somehow
became millions in debt. Board resignations, stormy meetings and
charges of under-the-table deals became commonplace.
None of which is to say that a community services district will
guarantee harmony and smooth sailing. After all, Groveland Community
Services District has seen its share of controversy over a nearly
What a community services district would do is centralize services
and give Tuolumne residents one agency, one board and one general
manager to bring its concerns to.
At present, a citizen determined to remain current has to monitor
the activities, budgets, administration and policies of three regularly
meeting boards and a couple which meet less frequently. It's a time
commitment few are likely to make.
As a result, smaller boards are apt to operate with little public scruntiny. The result?
Infighting, bad decisions and talk in "dark rooms," fears John
Feriani of the Tuolumne Township Citizens' Group, which has plans to
examine the feasibility of forming a CSD.
Although such behavior certainly isn't guaranteed in such small districts, it's certainly easier if no one's watching.
Some critics are concerned consolidation would lead to a loss of
concentration of power in fewer hands. But as it is, reports County
Clerk Debi Russell, elections for fire, sanitary and park district
often attract fewer candidates than seats available, betraying a lack
of community interest.
If all services were handled by a single board, however, better
attended meetings and more candidate interest would almost certainly
result. Also - and this issue is especially relevant in today's tough
economy - consolidation would almost certainly yield savings.
If there is an ideal template for converting from multiple
districts to a CSD, it was forged by Twain Harte. Its transition took
just only a year.
During that period, the community's water, park and fire boards
each voted unanimously to merge, members of the public voiced
overwhelming support, Tuolumne County's Local Agency Formation
Commission approved the plan and county supervisors voted to form the
new CSD, which held its first meeting on Aug. 6, 1996.
Will things go so smoothly in Tuolumne? Perhaps not, as directors of existing boards have already expressed reservations.
Still, formation of a community services district is too important
to abandon in the face of opposition from a few directors whose desire
to stay in power may exceed their concern for the community.
So we encourage the Township Citizens Group to pursue formation of
a CSD, work for consensus of the smaller boards and research boundary
changes and legal agreements that may be necessary.
If consensus among the existing districts is not forthcoming, the
plan is not doomed. Russell said a CSD can still be formed via an
election of the people.
And, as Tuolumne's citizens are the ones who would stand to benefit, they should have their say.