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News: 11/15/2018

Glen Ellen fire district gets big win with Measure T

The Glen Ellen Fire Protection District (GEFPD) was a winner in the Nov. 6 election, as voters easily passed Measure T, a parcel tax aimed at providing financial security for the future.

Two-thirds approval was required, and voters easily surpassed that threshold.

The vote on Measure T was 73.6 percent yes (636 votes), and 26.4 percent no (228 votes).

“It’s great news,” said Chris Landry, who served as chairman for the “Yes on T” committee. Landry, a Glen Ellen resident and professional firefighter with the Oakland Fire Department, said that volunteers and fire personnel walked neighborhoods and worked the phones to get the vote out.

“We all worked together as one,” said Landry. “I really believe this is a win for the community and keeps Glen Ellen’s fire services at a premium.”

This is the first time in Glen Ellen’s history that it has ever had a levy of any kind imposed on the fire district’s residents. Glen Ellen was one of two fire districts in the county that did not already have a tax in place to help fund fire services.

According to the details of Measure T, the GEFPD’s board of directors, after a public hearing, could impose a tax of up to $200 per parcel for residential and lodging properties, up to $100 for agricultural and vacant parcels, and up to $.10 per square foot for commercial, industrial, and warehouse properties.

If the maximum tax were to be imposed, it is estimated that Measure T monies would raise $387,000 a year.

Directors can set lower parcel tax rates, but cannot go above the maximum. It depends on the financial outlook for the district from year to year.

Measure T supporters said any tax monies would go to the Glen Ellen community for fire prevention, defensible space programs, improved emergency management, and public education services to Glen Ellen residents.

GEFPD member Peter Van Fleet said, in his opinion, he doesn’t see a need to impose any tax right away. Van Fleet sees the tax as a hedge against financial uncertainty in the future, and an assurance that the district will be able to fulfill its financial obligations in the contract it has with the Sonoma Valley Fire & Rescue Authority (SVFRA).

“It takes the worry out of things,” said Van Fleet.

Because the October 2017 fires destroyed 10 percent of the district’s residences, GEFPD will be looking at a revenue drop of property tax for an undetermined amount of time.

There also might be future financial obligations by Glen Ellen connected with the closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) and its fire department, which is currently funded by the State of California. The SDC’s 900 acres lie within GEFPD’s boundaries and would likely become the district’s responsibility for fire coverage.

In July of 2017 the GEFPD entered into a five-year contract with the Sonoma Valley Fire & Rescue Authority (SVFRA) to provide improvement in service and fire response times. There is now uninterrupted service in Glen Ellen because a captain and engineer/paramedic are on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Under the terms of the contract, the cost to GEFPD is 75 percent of the county tax funds it receives, with the remaining 25 percent of those property tax funds staying within the GEFPD budget, supplemented by the fundraising efforts of the Glen Ellen Firefighters Association – monies that go, in part, to equipment upkeep and maintenance.

“We’re obviously very excited and encouraged by Measure T’s passage,” said Stephen Akre, the fire chief for SVFRA. “The level of support from the community was really phenomenal. It’s a huge validation of what we’re doing – the service being provided, and how the (Glen Ellen) district is being managed by its board of directors.”

Similar parcel tax measures were on the ballot for voters in the Valley of the Moon Fire Protection District (Measure Y), and the Schell-Vista Fire Protection District (Measure X). Measure X passed with 73 percent of the vote, but as of press time, Measure Y was falling just short of the two-thirds required, with 65.3 percent of the vote.

The Sonoma County Registrar’s office still has to count overseas and provisional ballots, so the final outcome for Measure Y may not be known until the election certification deadline of Dec. 6.

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