When Placer County agreed to manage fire protection services for failed fire zones, they overlooked the long-term impact and costs of taking such action. As the number and severity of fires increased over the past five years, so did the cost of containment. Funding collected from parcel fire taxes, Prop 172 public safety funds and sales tax lacked sufficient revenues. The County realized too late it had unwittingly adopted an unsustainable financial model with CalFire contracted under an “Amador Agreement” to act as the service provider for eight stations. Those stations are in Alta, Colfax, Bowman, North Auburn, Ophir, Lincoln, the Sunset Area and Dry Creek. Fast forward and in 2016 the Placer County Final Budget for 2017/2018 raised a RED FLAG to an emerging trend. Rising costs created an annual shortfall of $1.5 million which had the Board of Supervisors tapping the General Fund to sustain the CalFire agreement.
Here is the excerpt from the 2017/2018 budget which clearly summarizes the problem:
“The Fire Control Fund is a Non-Major Governmental – Special Revenue fund managed by the County Executive Office which provides fire protection services through a contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFIRE) and provides hazardous material response (HAZMAT) capability. Recommended financing requirements of $5 million are supported by $4 million in estimated revenue, $560,000 in contingency reserve cancellations and $471,000 in carryover fund balance. In FY 2017-18 the fund will continue to receive a contribution for fire services from the General Fund of just under $1.1 million. Other financing sources include dedicated property tax, public safety sales tax and other miscellaneous revenue. The recommended operating budget for this fund is $670,000 higher than FY 2016-17 primarily due to the implementation of the vehicle and apparatus replacement plan approved by the Board of Supervisor in November of 2016 and a significant increase in the cost of contracted services provided by CalFire. Fire services in Placer County are provided through a combination of municipal and Independent Fire Districts, US Forest Service, State, and Placer County Fire, a County Service Area. Placer County Fire is provided under contract with CalFire and encompasses seven separate zones of benefit with widely varying property tax funding structures. A financial assessment of fire districts was presented to the Board of Supervisors on April 14, 2017. To maintain existing County fire services, the FY 2017-18 budget includes an additional $1.5 million of expenditures in order to fund an increase to the CalFire contract. The increase is driven in part by a CalFire wage increase, which will be phased-in over the next four years. Of concern is the ongoing sustainability of services as costs continue to climb.”
WHAT IS AT ISSUE
At their meeting on June 25, 2019, the Placer Board approved another $1.1 million from General Funds to cover the 2019/2020 shortfall.
Foresthill and other communities have complained for over 5 years that no funding is provided by Placer County to them. In fact, Foresthill was denied reimbursement for calls outside fire district boundaries that are the financial responsibility of the County. Why? Placer County depleted all the funding including those that Placer received from US Forestry because they were needed to subsidize the CalFire Amador contract. This left nothing to compensate the Foresthill Fire District for calls that were the responsibility of Placer County. Compounding the issue was the use of Foresthill’s general property tax dollars (monies intended for schools, roads, libraries) to support those failed fire districts while the community faced its own shortfall in keeping fire stations viable. It seems that those zones are receiving a larger financial benefit than our community based on a percentage of sales tax collected.
Placer County will present steps they are contemplating to right this inequity at the August 5, 2019, Foresthill Forum Meeting at 7 pm. As part of their presentation, County representatives were asked in a meeting on May 21, 2019, to provide a substantive and transparent presentation summarizing the following: 1) breakdown of total cost of CalFire agreement detailing expenses by station, equipment maintenance & administrative fees to discern the financial benefit to zones of benefit, 2) detail sources of all funding inclusive of Prop 172 funds to augment budget, fire taxes collected from those zones, etc. and 3) develop a timeline with solid solutions to rectify any subsidy to those zones. Additionally, the County was requested to disclose what consequences the zones of benefit will experience if they elect not to approve a special fire tax in 2020.
General Fund dollars were not intended to subsidize a few failed fire zones while communities such as Foresthill received zero and were forced to absorb the cost for calls which were the responsibility of Placer County.
SAVE THE DATE.
Monday, August 5 at 7 pm at the Veterans Memorial Hall. Arrive early as the facility has limited parking and seating. Hear and learn first-hand from Supervisor Gustafson how this problem will be managed.