Nipomo Set To Take The Wheel

The Tribune ran a great story on 2/6/07 here.  The reporter Larissa Van Beurden-Doust did a thorough job of researching and speaking with several individuals about incorporation, its advantages, the process, the issues, and the current status of the movement.  There’s even a link to an informal incorporation poll here.  If you haven’t voted, go check it out.

 Nipomo may get its own set of keys

By Larissa Van Beurden-Doust
ldoust@thetribunenews.com

Efforts to make Nipomo a city are gaining momentum, leading to questions about how incorporation works and how cityhood might change the rural but growing town.

Nipomo is the largest town in San Luis Obispo County that does not govern itself. At 14,500 residents, more people live in Nipomo than three incorporated cities — Grover Beach, Morro Bay and Pismo Beach.

Yet the county government still makes nearly all decisions for Nipomo — including growth, street repair and parks. The county Sheriff’s Department and CHP cover law enforcement duties, and County/Cal Fire, formerly CDF, offers fire protection.

Nipomo, said county Supervisor Katcho Achadjian, is like a child who for years depended on the county to drive it around but is now growing up. Nipomo is ready to own and drive its own car, said Achadjian, who represents the town. But with that comes maintenance and insurance expenses and the responsibility of using the car properly.

To see if Nipomo is ready for such a challenge, incorporation leaders including Mike Eisner and Guy Murray are forming a steering committee, likely made up of nine to 11 community members from diverse backgrounds and views. They hope to have it formed in the next several weeks.

While a recent meeting found support from about 50 community members, there are some concerns.

“There is no question that Nipomo needs to become an incorporated city,” said Mike Winn, who has been involved in the incorporation effort since it started in 1999. “The question is: When?”

When, how and what incorporation will mean are all questions that proponents and officials are trying to answer.

Why now?

A 1992 state law requires newly formed cities to have no financial impact on the county. That’s why some say timing is essential — incorporating at exactly the time the town has enough money to support itself but not after it will owe the county money. A study done about three years ago showed Nipomo lacked the revenue to support itself as a city and likely wouldn’t have enough money until 2012 to 2015. But late last year, it was discovered that Nipomo is several years ahead of sales tax projections. Winn, who is the president of the community services district board, said he worries the cost of running a city is increasing faster than money is coming in.

When could Nipomo expect to become a city?

Not for at least three to five years. Community members should pay for a feasibility study and gather community support before applying to the Local Agency Formation Commission, said LAFCO Executive Officer Paul Hood. LAFCO will then perform a comprehensive study determining exactly how much the city will need to operate and where that money will come from. If that study — which can take two years to complete — finds Nipomo can support itself, the issue will go to voters for approval.

Who would pay for the incorporation process?

The $150,000 to $200,000 it’s expected to take to go through the process and market the idea could come from a number of places. An agency such as the Nipomo Community Services District could lead the project and use its own money, Murray said. Or a nonprofit could be formed and rely on citizens’ donations. A group could also apply for a state loan or ask for help from businesses or developers. Without help from an agency or major donations, Murray said it may take years to raise money to begin the incorporation process.

Would taxes be raised after incorporation?

That’s up to the voters. The new city will receive all the sales tax that went to the county previously. The city would also get taxes from hotels, business licenses and utilities. If a city wants to raise taxes to specifically help pay for incorporation, it would need approval from two-thirds of the voters.

What would happen to the Nipomo Community Services District?

The two could not co-exist, so the logical solution would be for the city to swallow the district, said district General Manager Bruce Buel.

Who would be responsible for finding a long-term, reliable source of water and finishing the Willow Road project?

Major projects currently being done by the county or services district would likely transfer to the new city. The county would still help on certain projects, like Willow Road, officials said.

Does the county support incorporation?

Achadjian said he supports it, though neither the entire board nor county staff has discussed the issue officially. If Nipomo incorporates, Achadjian said, the county will not have to support infrastructure in Nipomo. However, there are still questions about what will happen to county staff that work mainly in the Nipomo area and how much money will no longer go to county coffers.

Who would lead a new city?

It will likely have a city manager-council government. Citizens elect five members for the council, which is then in charge of creating policies and ordinances for the city. The council hires a city manager to then hire other city staff and make day-to-day decisions. LAFCO will analyze the best option during its study, Hood said, but final decisions will likely be made after incorporation.

Would it mean an explosion of growth?

It depends on who is elected to the new City Council. Some would say new growth is needed to help pay for city services, while others would try to constrict growth, preferring that Nipomo stay rural.

Who would provide police and fire services?

The new city could contract with the Sheriff’s Department and Cal Fire, which are providing police and fire protection to Nipomo now, or the city could create its own departments. The latter would be more expensive, Murray said, as the city would have to find buildings, hire staff and buy vehicles and equipment.

This was an excellent incorporation article.  Thanks Larissa for all your effort in researching and reporting it to the community!

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