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Kenwood Fire district considering new tax rates

New rate structure will be on November ballot

By Jay Gamel

An update to Kenwood Fire Protection District tax assessments is in the works, with a new proposed ordinance likely to be placed on the Nov. 2 ballot this year, depending on the outcome of the July 13 regular directors’ meeting.

Currently fire district property owners pay $40 a year in a special assessment just for fire protection, in addition to their regular property taxes. The department’s major funding comes from a share of property taxes. The special tax rate for residential, agricultural, and commercial parcels is extra, and has not changed since it was first approved in 1992.

At the July 13 meeting, the board was expected to conduct a public hearing to receive comments on resolutions to place a district special tax on the ballot for voter approval.

The draft ordinance declares the 1992 assessment rate is “inadequate to meet the future costs of continuing to provide authorized fire and emergency services,” and sets new rates.

In the proposed ordinance (as drafted before the public meeting), the maximum new rates would be: $0.12 per square foot for residential properties; $0.12 per square foot for commercial properties; and $25 per acre for agricultural land. This would be approximately $300,000 annually to assist the district in meeting the future costs of continuing to provide authorized fire and emergency services.

These are maximum figures. The actual rates will be considered and imposed each year. The Sonoma Valley Fire District adopted the Glen Ellen Fire District’s $200-ayear maximum when the districts consolidated, but has only assessed 75 percent assessments to date. Kenwood rates would be applied in the same manner.

If voters approve the parcel tax increase, there would be a hearing in spring 2022 to set the rates and adjust any use codes that aren’t correct. Rates will be adjusted “each year for inflation” as determined by the state of California codes.

Two thirds of the district’s voters must approve the raise in taxes.

The district’s budget is posted at kenwoodfire.org/kenwood-firedept- financials.html. The proposed ordinance and tax rates are also on the website.

Fire protection district directors considered four sets of possible assessments before deciding that the square foot rate would be most equitable.

“I have been paying $40 per year since we moved here in 1996,” Director Daymon Doss said. “There has been no increase whatsoever since then. If the new ordinance goes through, my house is 1,650 square feet, and my new rate will be $198. I am in support of that new rate.”

Kenwood’s low tax rate for fire protection has been at least partially responsible for having one of the lowest, if not the lowest, firefighter salary schedules in the county, a fact that played a major role in keeping Kenwood from consolidating with Glen Ellen Fire District and the Valley of the Moon Fire and Rescue Authority in 2018.

“If we are ever going to be able to have equity with our partners around us, we must have equity in the paid salaries of our staff,” Doss said. “We are surrounded by consolidated fire districts in Santa Rosa and Sonoma Valley. Our services need to be equal to those around us. We have to have equity with our pay. The methodology for that is an increase in the assessment tax.”

The KFPD has adopted a $1.4 million budget for the fiscal year 2021–22 (FY21–22). The district’s cut of general property taxes contributed just over $830,000 in the past two years. The 1992 special tax brought in over $45,000 in the last cycle, but that is expected to drop to $42,700 this year due to wildfire property losses.

The biggest expenses are for salaries and equipment. The district budgeted just over $891,000 for salaries and employee benefits for FY21–22.

Overall, the FY21–22 budget is looking at a $176,000 shortfall for the year.

“I would like for us to look to the County of Sonoma to make up any additional deficits,” Doss said.

The county and all of the fire districts are also currently working on resurrecting a half-cent sales tax measure to support fire services throughout the county. The measure, “M” on the 2019 ballot, failed by a very narrow margin to achieve the two-thirds majority required to pass. As of now, spring 2022 is the earliest a new sales tax measure may be put on a ballot.

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