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Kenwood fire tax on the rise?

by Jay Gamel

There will be a new and higher benefit assessment tax proposed for the Kenwood Fire Protection District (KFPD) on the Nov. 8 ballot. If successful, the measure will replace the existing assessment structure established in 1982 and last updated in 1992. District directors voted unanimously on May 18 to move ahead with plans to have a measure prepared for the ballot and retained the services of Denny Rosatti, a campaign consultant, to help ensure passage. Kenwood voters have been highly supportive of KFPD’s modest funding requests in the past, as well as prior sales tax measures aimed at boosting money available for fire and emergency services throughout the county. Though 2020’s Measure G failed by a whisker, Kenwood supported it with a 73.7 percent majority. They approved another fire district appropriation limit with 94.8 percent approval, according to Director Daymon Doss. Residential assessments make up over 90 percent of KFPD’s benefit assessment revenue and have been set at $40 a year since 1982, with no provision for inflation. According to a draft resolution, the amount now collected under the 1992 assessment is “inadequate to meet the future costs of continuing to provide authorized fire and emergency services.” The existing tax ordinance will be repealed and replaced because the new levy is structured significantly differently. The old one was set at a $40 rate “in perpetuity” and made no allowance for inflation or other adjustments.

Under the new ordinance, residential and lodging parcels can be assessed up to a maximum of $200; $100 for agricultural and vacant land, and $0.10 per square foot for commercial, industrial, and warehouse property, even when located on agriculturally zoned land.

Rosatti and the board will spend the next few months evaluating the impact of the new assessment rates on parcels in the district.

A major question about the replacement ordinance is whether to mirror the Glen Ellen Fire District ordinance passed in 2014, which became the basis for all of the districts that consolidated with it in 2020 to form the Sonoma Valley Fire District. They included Mayacamas Volunteer Fire Company, Sonoma Valley Fire District (not including the City of Sonoma) and Glen Ellen Fire District. Kenwood FPD was not able to join in the consolidation, because of its low revenue and salary schedules — the lowest in Sonoma County.

Rates are applied according to use codes provided by the county assessor’s office, which are based on the property zoning. Keeping the codes the same as those used by the SVFD would enable Kenwood to apply for consolidation without having to submit another vote to the district residents in the next few years.

Joseph Gruchawka, Kenwood FPD’s newest director, expressed serious reservations about the fairness of use code applications to withhold support for keeping it the same as the Glen Ellen model, but a straw vote showed the other four directors in favor. No decision will be made until later this year.

The measure will have to be submitted to the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters by Aug. 12 to make the ballot.

County supervisors decided earlier in the year not to place another sales tax fire support measure on the ballot until 2022. While the 2020 Measure G half-cent sales tax narrowly failed, county supervisors were nervous about voter support with the continuing economic distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rosatti’s contract calls for $12,500 in direct consulting fees and up to $26,500 for various public affairs costs, including approximately $5,000 in legal fees for attorney Bill Adams for drawing up the resolution and ordinance, and other legal advice during the campaign. An additional $8,000 is earmarked for polling, $4,000 for an educational video, $3,000 to design and print a direct mail survey and other materials, $500 to facilitate community meetings, and up to $6,000 for direct mailings.

Doss addressed the issue of retaining a consultant early in the meeting: “We want it to pass. We need to make our best effort and consider the cost of losing.”

“It is well worth it,” Director John Cooper agreed. “I don’t want [the measure] tossed out for some technical reason. We have great community support, but professional guidance is well worth it.”

“The downside would be a loss that would be hard to recover from,” Board Chair Augie Moretti added.

Directors will consider adopting a formal resolution and ballot measure at their regular June 8 meeting at the Kenwood firehouse.