Voters in the Rancho Adobe Fire District, which covers the rural area to the northwest and northeast of Petaluma and includes the town of Penngrove and the Liberty Valley area, will soon vote on a proposed parcel tax measure designed to protect the lives and property of 25,000 residents in the sprawling 89 square-mile district.
Due to severely reduced property tax revenues brought about by the economic downturn, unless voters approve a $60 annual parcel tax for eight years, the district's three fire stations will be forced to close on a rotating basis and several firefighters will be laid off, leaving fewer people to respond to fires and medical emergencies. Emergency response times would, by necessity, increase.
Measure Z will raise funds that Fire Chief Frank Treanor says are desperately needed to keep all three fire stations running around the clock and to avoid laying off firefighters.
He's not exaggerating. Since 2006, the district has cut its expenses by 25 percent. It paid off its unfunded pension liability and reduced the health care plan it offers employees for a savings of $231,000 since 2009. In addition, firefighters at Rancho Adobe are already paid an average of 22 percent less than other firefighters in the area.
Because of these strong efforts to control costs, Measure Z is one of the few county tax measures that the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association has endorsed on the November ballot. After eight years, at which point it's expected that property tax revenues will have rebounded, the tax will expire.
Despite the intense cost-control, the devaluation of property over the last several years has created deficits. Last year, the district operated with a $177,000 deficit. This year, a $384,000 deficit is projected in a district where the annual budget is $3.3 million.
Measure Z would generate about $426,000 annually, enough to keep all three fire stations open 24-7, including one in Penngrove and another at 99 Liberty School Road in Petaluma. There would also be money to set aside for equipment replacement in the future.
If the measure doesn't pass, Treanor will be forced to reduce his staff of 16 full-time firefighters and 12 part-time firefighters by a quarter, and "brown out" one of his three fire stations each day.
If there are any voters willing to risk having their fire station close down, they might consider what occurred one day in 2004 as a fast-moving wildfire in the Liberty Valley area broke out when the nearby fire station was closed. The fire burned two homes, six barns and 30 acres before it was contained. It was only through good fortune that no one was killed or injured in that fire.
There hasn't been any kind of a tax increase in the Rancho Adobe Fire District in 19 years. Measure Z's proposed temporary tax is an affordable and wise investment that ensures emergency services will remain intact.
We recommend a yes vote on Measure Z.