There was a full house turnout at last week’s Foresthill Forum. I appreciate the incredible interest and the discussions that occurred during and after the meeting. I am writing this to clarify items that seemed to need further explanation.
Since joining the Placer County Board of Supervisors, I have been highly engaged on issues surrounding fire services within District 5 and throughout the county. Learning the background of county involvement in Placer County Fire, meeting with county staff, meeting with leaders of Foresthill’s Measure B, meeting with Chief Kushen and Chief Estes, have all provided a great deal of information. Along with District 3 Supervisor Jim Holmes, I have participated in a number of meetings of the Fire Ad Hoc Committee which was established by the full Board of Supervisors to help develop financial sustainability solutions for Placer County Fire. I understand the sense of urgency to implement solutions quickly and am working with Supervisor Holmes and county staff to keep this issue at the forefront of our efforts.
History and Background:
Proposition 13 and AB 8 allocated property tax to various local governments based on historic percentages. Unfortunately, these historic percentages were not reflective of true needs moving forward. Many districts (both fire and other types) throughout the state have chosen to consolidate or dissolve because of challenges with revenues. In 2001, the Dry Creek Fire Protection area, under financial distress, decided to dissolve their independent district and the Placer County Board of Supervisors agreed to assume fire protection services. In 2006, under similar circumstances, Placer Consolidated decided to dissolve their independent district and again, the county Board of Supervisors assumed the fire protection services. In both circumstances, the leaders of these districts decided they no longer wished to maintain their autonomy and opted to join what is now called Placer County Fire, with service provided under contract by CAL FIRE. Other districts in the county have chosen to remain independent and autonomous and all of these have passed tax measures to sustain their operations.
While originally the county was able to provide the fire service in a cost neutral manner (revenues matched expenses), a 2017 analysis showed that these now dissolved districts were no longer cost neutral and this trend was projected to continue. The report further explained that voter-approved parcel taxes were the only source of additional sustainable revenue. Based on this report and projections, a Fire Ad Hoc Committee of the Board of Supervisors (Holmes and Montgomery) was established to take a deeper look into the issue and work toward a resolution to address the increasing reliance on general fund dollars.
The Fire Ad Hoc Committee asked for detailed research including a Standards of Cover review and independent financial analysis to determine fair share funding across the Placer County Fire Zones of Benefit. Once the analysis is complete, the county will begin outreach to the communities and conduct special elections to achieve financial sustainability. In the meantime, understanding that Placer County Fire is a key component of fire protection in Placer County and a critical component of our robust mutual aid system, the Board of Supervisors has elected to maintain the current service level and continue the general fund contribution to Placer County Fire.
County staff are working with independent consultants who are conducting a thorough analysis on service levels for future voter consideration. This will inform the Ad Hoc Committee in our outreach and communication strategies. As you know, education on the importance of local measures takes time and research. It took the passionate effort of your community leaders several efforts to pass Measure B. The county wants to ensure that we take enough time to gather all the information necessary so constituents can be properly informed when they vote to determine the level of service for their community. We have already started the process by forming the North Auburn/Ophir Fire Safe Council to begin involving the constituents in the broad issue of fire protection and funding. We will work with that council and others in the community to bring a measure to those voters.
Now more than ever, fire protection is critically important to all residents of Placer County. I can assure you that myself, and the other board members understand the concerns you have shared. We are committed to working intently on a strategy to establish equitable and sustainable fire funding throughout the county.