Fire chiefs seek share of Prop. 172 funds

By From page A1 | February 20, 2012

In an effort to close a funding gap, county fire chiefs asked the Cameron Park Community Services District board for support in seeking a share of Proposition 172 funding from the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.

In their presentation, Rescue Fire Department Chief Tom Keating and  CalFire/Cameron Park Battalion Chief Michael Webb justified the request by describing the impact of previous funding cuts, the 40 percent rise in call volume, difficulty in finding volunteer firemen, and three catastrophic fires the county has suffered in the past 21 years.

Up against a deadline set by the county to come up with a solution, they noted that Aid to Fire Services was canceled by the Board of Supervisors in 2009 and the fire districts were given two years to find a solution.

The fire chiefs offered different long-term solutions for filling the revenue gap including: Gaining a share of Proposition 172 funds; using stimulus funding or casino revenue, if available; having legislation passed to reallocate a share of property taxes to fire agencies; or using a portion of the motel/hotel tax for fire services.

Keating said fire agencies have already taken steps to reduce their budgets by lowering salaries and benefits for existing as well as new employees.

Other cost savings they are considering include contracting out services to other agencies, using grant funding for equipment and personnel, and consolidating services on a regional basis.

Keating said the recently enacted Cal Fire SRA fee did not help matters. The fee, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, amends Title 14 to apply a fee to every dwelling and habitable building on land in “State Responsibility Areas.”  These areas include most lands not covered by city limits or Forest Service lands. A habitable structure is defined as a permanent dwelling and includes mobile homes and manufactured homes.

The SRA fee of $150 per dwelling is considered by most to be a tax. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has promised to sue, saying the fee is an illegal tax because it was never approved by the public.

The CPCSD board voted in favor of sending a letter of support to the county Board of Supervisors on behalf of the fire agencies as long as other funding is not available.

Dawn Hodson

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