Placer Hills fire district asks voters for $79 a year

Measure E to be on June ballot, needs two-thirds approval
By: Martha Garcia Gold Country News Service
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Placer Fire Protection District officials say passage of Measure E, which will appear on the June 5 Primary Election ballot, is essential to maintain current staffing and services and fund capital purchases. However, a Meadow Vista businessman is concerned about the increase in fees to property owners. Measure F would authorize an annual tax of $79 per single-family parcel, effective July 1 of this year, and would require two-third voter approval. Taxpayers currently pay a benefit assessment per residence approved in June 2004, and another benefit assessment charge approved in 1991. According to Placer County Treasurer-Tax Collector Jenine Windeshausen, amounts for both the 2004 and 1991 measures have been adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index. After June 30, 2014, Measure E could also be adjusted annually based on the CPI, but does include yearly caps. Fees are higher for multiple homes on a parcel, mobile homes, and commercial buildings. Broker Fred Eichenhofer, of Sierra Pacific Real Estate in Meadow Vista, said his initial thought about the proposed assessment is that taxpayers are already paying too much. “We have great service, but could there be a way to accomplish what emergency services need without raising taxes?” he said. He cited more efficient use of current revenues as one option. Placer Hills Fire Chief Ian Gow estimates revenue from Measure E would be $300,000 a year. “Our plan is $100,000 of that will go to replace our two missing paramedic positions … lost due to attrition,” Gow said. The full-time positions are being filled by part-timers, which requires complicated planning. “We’ve managed to keep the staffing going but it’s difficult,” he said. J.B. Stevens, of Meadow Vista, said he was a battalion chief at Placer Hills Fire in the early 90s and doesn’t feel there is a need for two paramedics on every call. “EMTs, along with one paramedic, make a good team,” Stevens said. Gow said about $60,000 of the funds will go toward gear replacement, including the special protective clothing and breathing apparatus used when fighting structure fires, fire hoses, and clothing for wildland firefighting. The balance will be used for capital equipment replacement, specifically engines that can range in price from $350,000 to $500,000. “You need to replace fire engines roughly every five to 10 years; our entire fleet is in that age bracket,” Gow said. “They’re hideously expensive but they take a lot of wear and tear in just routine use.” Tim Paul, also of Meadow Vista, doesn’t think now is the right time to replace the engines. “All the fire equipment they have is in great shape,” Paul said. “In times of the recession we are having, it doesn’t make sense to increase taxes for residents to replace equipment.” Placer Hills Fire maintains stations in Meadow Vista and Weimar, each staffed 24 hours a day by a firefighter and a paramedic and one engine. There is also a volunteer station in Applegate. In addition to Meadow Vista, Weimar and Applegate, the district also services the communities of Eden Valley and Clipper Gap and total of about 4,000 residents. Gow said that due to the economic downturn and the dramatic decrease in home values, the fire district has seen a loss in revenues. “If we don’t pass the ballot measure, our fear is we will have to cut our level of service,” he said. “And if we cut our level of service, it’s very likely that our response times will dramatically increase. It’s also likely that the public’s insurance costs will increase.” According to Gow, the district runs between 800 and 1,000 calls per year and about 70 percent are medical-related calls. “If we can’t afford to fund our paramedics at both stations it will increase our response times, which is something none of us can afford,” Gow said. Placer Hills Fire office manager Gillian Lofrano said the district has three different sources of funding. She anticipates property tax funds to total about $798,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012. The benefit assessment approved in 2004 is expected to provide $497,000 for this fiscal year. The third source is derived from building and development fees, which are earmarked for capital expenditures such as station improvements or new equipment. Lofrano believes the $50,000 that had been budgeted is too high because of the low level of building activity in the area, and will actually total about $28,000. Walgra Meadows subdivision resident Sharon Stoll, who recently experienced an acute medical emergency and was assisted by Placer Hills Fire personnel, is in favor of Measure E. “Your life is worth more than $79,” said Stoll. “To make sure your home is protected … save your life, it’s all worth it. I think we all need it up here in Meadow Vista.” Wally Reemelin has lived in Meadow Vista for almost four decades, and although he said that for all those years he has tried to “keep taxes down in Placer County,” he supports the measure. “I think it would be very shortsighted for voters not to OK this ballot measure,” Reemelin said. “They’re a fairly efficient fire department. The cost of doing things has just gone up … They need more funding to do their job … It’s not just for fire protection; it’s also about life protection.”