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Local fire districts asking for increase in fees

Measures D, E to be decided in June
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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With revenue from property tax continuing to plummet and the need for fire and emergency services remaining steady, two local fire departments are asking June voters to decide what level of service they want. Local fire chiefs say without the increase in fees a reduction in services will have to be made to balance massive budget shortfalls. North Auburn- Ophir Fire has proposed Measure D, a tax that would increase current charges by $40 per home in a residential development, $20 per unit in mobile home parks and 4.6 cents per square foot for commercial and industrial buildings. A copy of the text of Measure D itself was not available through the Placer County Office of Elections. Election officials say one has not been submitted to them yet. The Placer Hills Fire Protection District has proposed Measure E, a tax that would be levied on improved parcels with an assessed value of $10,000 or more. Single family and mobile homes would pay an additional $79 per parcel, on top of the $116.16 they pay now, with costs for other types of structures ranging up to $158 per structure. The maximum charge per parcel in 2012-2013 for a single residence or mobile home is $195.16 and $2,232.76 for commercial or multiple use parcels. Each measure also includes the possibility of fees being raised each year by a cost of living adjustment or 3 percent, whichever is higher. Voters will decide on the measures in the June 5 presidential primary election. Randy Smith, deputy chief of operations for the Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit of Cal Fire and Placer Fire, said the county has identified a shortfall of $575,000 in the North Auburn-Ophir Fire budget. He said if Measure D is not passed, then the county has indicated one of the three engine companies serving the 65-mile area will have to be cut. ?It?s truly a revenue issue and certainly we all understand the revenue side and why that is going on,? Smith said. ?The county has identified a shortfall of $575,000 a year to be able carry us at the same level of service, facility repairs and staffing.? Smith, who has lived in the North Auburn-Ophir area since he started in the fire service 23 years ago, said he worries about response times going up if an engine company is eliminated. ?I don?t want to see reductions in the level of service that might impact somebody?s life or property because that is what I have done my whole life, protected them,? Smith said. ?The fire department serves my house with my children and my wife.? Revenues down $100K in Placer Hills Ian Gow, chief of the Placer Hills Fire Protection District, said since property tax revenues have dropped, the district?s shortfall has been about $100,000 per year. Over the years, Gow said residents in the area voted to add additional services, including paramedics. Seventy to 75 percent of the calls to the district are medical related. This year one paramedic retired and the other left to go another station and the district can?t afford to fully replace the positions. Over the past few years the district has relied on reserves to balance its budget. Without an increase of revenue, Gow said one engine will probably have to go unstaffed. ?This measure is designed to give us just enough money to replace those two full-time positions, to replace routine gear and to have a little money to set aside for saving for long-term capital expenses, like replacing apparatuses,? Gow said. He said the additional fees would bring the cost for fire protection per single family home to about $195 per year. Gow said the fees could only be raised by the lesser of the change in federal cost of living or 3 percent by the board. Past initiatives for the fire district included this provision and Gow said the board has rarely used it over the past several years. It is mainly included in case insurance costs skyrocket or some other unforeseen emergency takes place, he added. ?We understand times are hard, but we have no other way to make up that income other than dramatically affecting the level of service we provide and we are not going to do that without asking the public first.? Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.