North Auburn, Ophir to vote June 5 on fire tax increase

Placer County fire marshal says no more cuts can be made without losing service levels Placer County fire official says no more cuts can be made without losing service levels
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Voters in Placer County’s North Auburn-Ophir fire protection coverage area will decide June 5 on whether they want to raise an additional $570,000 a year through higher taxes to maintain current levels of service. Placer County supervisors voted 4-0 on Tuesday, with Supervisor Jack Duran absent, to place a tax initiative on the primary ballot. It’s being seen by proponents as a way to offset declining revenues in areas of North Auburn and Ophir covered by the Placer County Fire Department. Brad Harris, who serves as the county’s fire marshal, said he expects the special tax measure will spur debate. “It’s a question of what level of service do you need and how are you going to fund it,” Harris said. “I’m a very fiscally conservative person so it’s difficult to bring this forward but we’ve cut everything we can cut.” Under the measure, each residence would be taxed an additional $40 to the $48 already being paid annually for fire protection. Mobile-home park units would pay $20 in addition to the current $28. To be approved, the measure needs to garner two-thirds of the vote. Rui Cunha, assistant director of emergency services, told supervisors that the vote will give Ophir-North Auburn residents and businesses a chance to decide on what level of service they want to see. Staffing and equipment now allow the fire department to handle 84 percent of the 2,400 calls the county gets annually in the area, he said. But current and future projected deficits would result in the reduction in the number of engine companies available from three to two, Cunha said. That will have an impact on both the number of calls Placer County will be able to provide fire service to and would mean the time it would take to get to some calls would be extended, he said. The measure also would correct a disparity that currently exists between the payments made by homeowners and ones made by larger businesses, Cunha said. Currently, fire fees are capped for commercial buildings at $300. Under the proposed measure, commercial and industrial development would be charged 4.6 cents per square foot. For a business like Wal-Mart, which plans to build a 155,000 square-foot store in North Auburn starting this spring, it would mean an annual fee of $7,130. Commercial properties are now charged five cents a square foot up to a maximum of $300, if they have installed sprinklers. Supervisor Jim Holmes said that the North Auburn-Ophir situation is not unique. Pointing to a similar ballot measure voters in the Newcastle Fire Protection District will be considering March 6, Holmes said that people need to understand it has nothing to do with “mismanagement or malfeasance.” Instead, Holmes said that fire districts have been hamstrung for more than 30 years by limitations in Prop. 13 language that froze their property-tax compensation to percentages they were getting at that time. “They might be getting two cents on the dollar like Loomis while their neighbor might have seven cents,” Holmes said.