|RAFD needs Measure Z
During the past several months, articles have been published about the financial condition of the Rancho Adobe Fire District.
The District has cut operating expenses 25 percent over the last 5 years. We have paid off the unfunded retirement liability for our firefighters. We have modified the health plan, saving $231,000 over four years. Member’s salaries are on average 22 percent lower than other departments in Sonoma County.
The members have not had pay raises in four of the last five years. Members’ retirement is 33 percent less than other fire departments in the county. They receive 2 percent up to age 50 rather than 3 percent at age 50.
With all this being done with the cooperation of the members, the District has had two successive years of budget deficits – with a deficit of more than $200,000 in 2010-11 and a $177,000 budget deficit last year and the anticipated deficit next year of over $350,000. We have had to take money from our dry period funding to balance these budgets. Those funds are used to fund the District operations during the time before the infusion of property tax money in December, and they are being rapidly depleted.
The devaluation of the housing market has lowered the amount of revenue we receive from property taxes to a place where revenues do not offset expenses. It is estimated this downturn will last for eight more years.
The District will have to cut staffing by 25 percent to balance the 2012-13 budget unless something is done. This will mean each day one of the three stations will be closed, and the response time, that critical time we have to make a difference, will increase. Fewer firefighters on the scene will also mean less safety for your firefighters.
We are at a juncture where we can no longer make cuts without cutting personnel unless there is an increase in revenue.
Our Board of Directors, at my urging, has placed a measure on the November ballot. This measure is called Measure Z.
It would create a new special tax of $60 per parcel per year for eight years, and these funds would only be used to reduce the deficit and purchase new fire apparatus to replace pieces that are as much as 30 years old and do not meet new safety standards. Offsetting the deficit will keep your fire stations staffed 24/7, maintaining reasonable response times.
This new special tax will cost just 16 cents a day to maintain your fire protection at current levels.
Measure Z is endorsed by the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association, who reported in their newsletter “Rising above the all too familiar tale of declining revenues, increasing expenses and aging equipment were several factors telling us we were dealing with an unusual case of public officials committed not only to providing high quality services to the community, but doing so in a cost efficient manner cognizant that taxpayers foot the bill.”
The question the voters of the District must answer: Is keeping your fire stations open and keeping response times short worth 16 cents a day?
Frank Treanor is the Fire Chief of the Rancho Adobe Fire District.