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Placer County moves to close multi-million-dollar fire-funding gap

By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Facing a multi-year, multi-million-dollar funding gap for fire services, Placer County supervisors voted to support a new action plan that moves toward potential financial stability.

Supervisors were told that as much as $9.5 million would have to be back-filled into the county’s fire districts over the next five years, with funding sacrificed from other services if other revenue streams aren’t developed.

To help the county develop an action plan for the financial stability of Placer County Fire-served areas, the board approved a new ad hoc committee that would be led by supervisors Jim Holmes and Jennifer Montgomery. Holmes is a former fire district board member in North Auburn and Montgomery’s husband is a firefighter in the Tahoe area.

The board’s actions follow a recent study of fire services by the Placer County Local Agency Formation commission that concluded the county’s current fire and emergency services system funding model is unsustainable.

“The question is, how do we get to a fiscally sustainable model that is fair to all taxpayers in Placer County,” Montgomery said. Her District 5 takes in Auburn but all of the the rural, forested eastern area of Placer County extending into the Sierra and up to Lake Tahoe. Most of the major fires that have occurred in the region over the past decade and before have taken place in what is now the relatively unpopulated but heavily forested District 5.

One of those District 5 fire districts was given a break on a renewed push for a ballot measure to ask voters whether to increase the parcel tax to pay for fire services.

The board approved waiving Placer County elections division fees for a vote to go ahead in November in the area served by the independent Foresthill Fire Protection District.

Foresthill is one of 17 independent fire districts in Placer County.

Placer County Fire Chief George Morris said challenges to funding for fire services includes a cap of property taxes under 1978’s Proposition 13 and a later measure that requires a two-thirds plurality on tax measures making it harder for districts to keep up with costs.

For Placer County Fire-served areas, county staff will pursue a consolidation of its 10 separate zones of benefit, intended to reduce costs and increase flexibility and coordination of resources. A zone of benefit is a geographic area formed under county service-area law to provide services no already provided by any other entity.