Late last week the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District got their November 2018 tax initiative on the books by officially submitting their ballot language to the Sonoma County Registrar’s Office. The fire district, which serves Penngrove, Cotati and parts of Petaluma, is hoping the tax will ease some of their financial burdens if passed by voters this November and prevent fire station closures.
District board members met last Wednesday night at their regular board meeting to finalize the language of the measure, which has failed to pass in previous elections in 2006 and 2012.
Despite the $300 tax, members are optimistic the tax increase will finally pass this year following the October wildfires and increased awareness and support for fire protection agencies.
“We’re worried because it is asking for a substantial increase, but one of the things I think has been made really clear was with the October fire you don’t know how vital fire protection is until the threat comes close and it came very close,” says Greg Karraker, a fire district board member. “It was our guys out there who stopped it at Crane Creek Park and kept the rest of the district safe. I think this creates awareness and having people understand that we will close stations if we don’t get the revenue.”
The updated tax would charge $0.82 per day per parcel – an annual rate of $300. The tax would provide about $2.1 million and come with a 3 percent annual inflation adjustment.
With the current tax, finances have been in the red, making service difficult. In 2012 after the tax failed to pass, fire stations were closed the very next day according to Karraker.
The district was also forced to hire part time firefighters following district wide layoffs, making it difficult to retain the part timers with a $15 per hour salary. And with increased service — about 2,500 calls a year, compromising from full time firefighters to part time firefighters can be difficult.
One of the district station’s roofs is also in urgent need of a replacement, which revenue from the tax increase would also help.
Even if residents don’t agree with the need for another tax increase, it is clear that the tax is in dire need of an update. It is currently set at a rate of $10 per unit of risk ($40 in purchasing power) in 1993 dollars, which means in today’s dollars the tax is only worth about $23, making it pretty much defunct for revenue purposes.
Karraker says the new initiative could make Rancho Adobe Fire “a first-class fire district,” with the addition of ambulance services, more full-time firefighters and a more streamlined approach.
“Right now, because of our budget constraints we’ve been scraping by and we’ve had to make some compromises,” Karraker noted. “But this will let us create a… district that has ambulance service, full time firefighters and more stability in our staff that we’ve never had before.”
If voters do not give the “OK” on the tax then the threat of station closures could become a reality and response times could slow down to six minutes instead of three, which could be the difference between life or death for a heart attack or stroke victim.
In order to boost public awareness and campaign for the measure, district members have set up a political action committee (saverafd.org) to raise funds along with several planned fundraising events.
“We have a couple scheduled fundraisers coming up and we are also going to have an outdoor board on Old Redwood Highway starting late September promoting our cause and we will do the usual thing; yard signs, emails and we will walk the neighborhoods and hand out pieces (of information),” Karraker explained.
The political action committee’s goal is to raise about $30,000 come November for campaign finance. The committee (Save RAFD) has raised about $7,000 so far.
“We’ve got a long way to go…” Karraker said.