During the October 2017 firestorm in Sonoma County, residents of Penngrove and Petaluma were spared from the devastation wrought on our neighbors in Sonoma and Santa Rosa. Fires crept over Sonoma Mountain east of Rohnert Park, but the brave firefighters of the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District made a stand at Petaluma Hill Road, and the fires never came any closer.
Those same firefighters also battled the blazes elsewhere in the county, and have contributed to firefighting efforts around the state in recent years. Now, they need our help.
The Rancho Adobe district this November is asking voters for a $300 parcel tax, which would replace the current $40 tax that funds the district. While this is a more than seven-fold increase, we believe voters should support this tax, on the ballot as Measure W.
The original $40 parcel tax has not been increased since 1993, and since then service calls have increased 250 percent and equipment costs have risen. The average fire protection district enjoys a $500 parcel tax. Measure W would also peg Rancho’s parcel tax to inflation, so it would keep up with the cost of providing excellent fire protection services.
Readers may recall that Rancho Adobe twice asked voters in the 28,000-resident district north of Petaluma for a parcel tax increase. Both times, in 2006 and 2012, the measure failed. In 2012, after the defeat of the measure, Rancho Adobe was forced to close one of three fire stations on a rolling basis.
The station closures only ended in 2014 after a $300,000 payment from the Graton Casino. But those funds are not guaranteed, especially as other Sonoma County fire departments that were more directly impacted from the wildfires lobby for more of the funding.
Such rolling brownouts could happen again if Measure W fails to pass, resulting in double the length of response times.
Another drain on Rancho Adobe’s resources is Sonoma State University, which accounts for 10 percent of the district’s calls for service. Despite being a large landowner in the district, the university pays no tax and has frustrated the district’s attempts to collect reimbursement.
Measure W has rare support from the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association. They point out that the district has shown good fiscal management. Firefighter salaries are 22 percent lower than those of other districts, and pension costs, typically a disqualifying factor for tax watchdogs, are 33 percent lower than neighboring districts.
With more revenue, the district could hire more full-time firefighters, recruiting and retaining more talented staff instead of training young firefighters and watching them leave for more money. It could also provide round-the-clock ambulance service, an important function as district residents age and medical calls increase.
Perhaps most importantly, the district would be able to avoid station closures. Current revenue projections are bleak — the district will run a $361,000 deficit this fiscal year, which increases to a $1.4 million deficit in 2021. The district needs new revenue, and district voters would be wise to dig into their pocketbooks now, before the bad fire conditions become even more dire.
The Argus-Courier recommends voting “yes” on Measure W for the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District.