The El Dorado Hills Fire Department’s annexation of the Latrobe Fire Protection District continues to progress, with the process now in the hands of El Dorado County’s Local Agency Formation Commission.
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Earlier this year, the El Dorado Hills and Latrobe fire boards voted to proceed with annexation. If all goes as planned, El Dorado Hills would assume responsibility for the Latrobe fire district, adding 45 square miles and two stations to its coverage area.
“We’re basically going to double our coverage area,” said EDH Fire Chief Dave Roberts, adding that the Latrobe area is much more rural with only about 1,100 residents. El Dorado Hills firefighter crews already serve as the back-up first responders in the area because Latrobe does not provide 24/7 coverage.
Negotiations to combine the neighboring fire district began about two years ago. Local funding that kept Latrobe and other small El Dorado County fire districts afloat was disappearing. The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors eliminated its Aid to Fire program in 2011, providing limited financial patches in the few years following, and this happened around the same time property values took a dive, Roberts explained. The “double whammy” brought Latrobe and El Dorado Hills, which had discussed annexation in the past, back to the negotiations table.
“Annexations are very difficult,” Roberts explained. “You’ve got a lot of emotion … a lot of pride with the chiefs and staff … and rightly so.”
El Dorado County District 3 Supervisor and former EDH Fire Chief Brian Veerkamp applauded the districts for their dedication and hard work over the past two years, saying this move will ensure Latrobe residents receive “stable emergency services.”
The El Dorado Hills/Latrobe Plan for Service states: “The Latrobe community would be staffed 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days per week, with after-hour response from volunteers, apprentices and the closest staffed resource, most likely Station 87,” and, “Chief officer coverage would be 24/7/365 by the shift battalion chief or the assigned duty chief responding typically from Station 85.
“It is the intent of the El Dorado Hills Fire Department and the EDHFD Board of Directors to fully staff the Latrobe area with a three-person engine company (captain, engineer, firefighter/paramedic) 24/7/365 as soon as practical,” the document continues. “Increased staffing levels and hours would be dictated by several established triggers, including: area growth, call volume, call type, response time, budget and the (Assembly Bill 8) adjustment outlined in the resolution of annexation.”
Latrobe’s part-time paid staff will keep their positions and the Latrobe chief, currently a volunteer position, is encouraged to stay on board through the transition process, according to the agreement. The El Dorado Hills Fire Department will use Latrobe’s volunteer firefighters and also retain a Latrobe volunteer captain.
The Board of Supervisors will have a say in the annexation process in the form of that AB8 adjustment. Currently, El Dorado Hills Fire’s AB8 tax rate is 17 cents per dollar. Latrobe currently receives 4.3 cents per dollar and, Roberts said, the district wants the supervisors to readjust that rate to match El Dorado Hills’ rate, adding “a couple hundred thousand dollars for us to work with.”
Latrobe’s current budget is about $165,000 a year; El Dorado Hills operates a $14 million budget.
Veerkamp said that whatever rate is approved — the additional money will come from the county’s General Fund — he and fellow supervisors will ensure that the fire department has “solid funding.” The supervisor noted that a Citygate rural fire districts report commissioned by a previous board — but never adopted — recommends Latrobe receive 13 cents per dollar (essentially the same amount of money it received when the county supplemented the district’s budget with Aid to Fire).
“We’ll have to analyze what we think the cost of service really is,” Veerkamp explained. “We don’t want to burden the El Dorado Hills Fire Department with extra costs.”
Roberts said the 13 cents rate would not be enough to proceed with annexation. He and El Dorado Hills fire board members discussed last week initiating another Citygate study that would support the 17 cents rate and further review the El Dorado Hills/Latrobe annexation plan. They decided to hold off for now, citing that staff has been meeting individually with supervisors to explain the plan of service and the proposed budget adjustment.
First, the agreement must go through LAFCO review. LAFCO Executive Officer José Henriquez said staff will analyze the fire departments’ proposal, looking at more than two dozen factors. Once the initial review is completed, the proposal goes to affected county departments and to the supervisors (sometime this summer) to determine the AB8 rate.
The public will also have a chance to review the documents, ask questions and share their opinions during planned LAFCO public workshops (dates to be determined but after the Board of Supervisors makes its decision on the property tax revenue rate). If LAFCO receives valid, written protests from 25 to 50 percent of the affected population, the annexation will go on the ballot, according to Henriquez. If more than 50 percent of the population submits valid protests, the annexation will fail.
Chief Roberts said he and Latrobe Fire Chief Chris Couper have already reached out to many affected residents and don’t anticipate much public opposition. They’ve also provided LAFCO with much of the information staff needs to complete its work. Barring any hiccups in the process, the LAFCO commissioners will could make their final decision on the annexation agreement as early as late summer 2014 but more likely, according to Henriquez, by the end of 2014. El Dorado Hills and Latrobe officials will then have a year to comply with any conditions set upon them by LAFCO.
To read the El Dorado Hills Fire Department/Latrobe Fire Protection District Annexation Plan for Service visit edhfire.com and click on “Documents and Forms” under “Our Services.”