Saturday Feb 04 2012
Another View: Get them out of the trailer and into a firehouse
By: Jim Holmes, guest columnist,
For the last several years the Newcastle Fire Protection District (NFPD) has suffered financial difficulties that have been caused by many factors. Please allow me to explain how the district was formed and how it receives it revenues. In the late 1860s Newcastle was a growing community that was enjoying the benefits of the new Transcontinental Railroad. Since there was no fire protection in the area, community members formed the Newcastle Volunteer Fire Department. As the community grew, the residents agreed to tax themselves through a property tax and through an act of the State Legislature the district was formed. Because of the availability of community volunteers the district was able to keep its expenses low. If the district needed to raise funds it was allowed by law to raise the amount of property tax to meet its needs. That ability changed in 1978 with the passage of Proposition 13, which froze property tax rates at the rate that was needed for a primarily volunteer fire department. The district’s property tax rate at the time was 3.5 cents for each dollar collected in the property tax of the area and remains so to this day. Over the years, it became increasingly difficult to find volunteers willing to dedicate the time and hours of training required to qualify as a firefighter. Changes in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations mandated that volunteers obtain essentially the same type and hours of training required of paid firefighters. This state regulation had the effect of reducing their ranks as those individuals could no longer commit the time necessary to be in compliance with the new training requirements. Fire districts and their elected boards began to hire paid firefighters. At the same time, liability insurance costs rose dramatically, as did worker’s compensation insurance that is required by state law for paid and volunteer firefighters. The costs for fuel, maintenance and utilities have also risen dramatically. Simply stated, the growth in the expenses of the NFPD has been exceeding the growth in revenues as provided by law. Because of the conservative fiscal policies of the pre-Proposition 13 board of directors and fire chief the NFPD board finds itself with significant revenue shortfalls and a condemned fire station that was built more than 100 years ago. The current board is to be commended for governing the NFPD with such revenue constraints and for providing services as long as they have. Since the Newcastle fire station has been condemned, their Board of Directors have two choices: dissolve the district and discontinue providing fire protection and emergency medical response to the district’s residents or ask the district’s residents to approve Measure B, which asks for a yearly parcel tax of $146.46. If Measure B passes (two-thirds majority is required) it will raise $280,000 a year, which will allow the district to finance a new fire station on a donated lot in the vicinity of the Newcastle Highway Patrol Office and provide adequate compensation (currently $8.50 an hour) to its paid firefighters. Should Measure B fail to pass, the Newcastle area now protected by the NFPD will become an open area without a fire station or a volunteer company. The surrounding fire agencies, while not required to respond to emergencies in Newcastle, would try to do so but only if they were not responding to calls in their own jurisdictions. Those fire agencies are also struggling with insufficient revenues, which will further limit their ability to serve Newcastle. Newcastle residents will see a significant increase in response times and significant increases in their homeowners insurance. Please help maintain the fine services provided by the dedicated firefighters of the Newcastle Fire Protection District, who are currently spending their nights in a camping trailer, by supporting Measure B. Jim Holmes is a Placer County Supervisor representing District 3.