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Kenwood fire budget $218,000 in the red this fiscal year and next

 

Passage of increased assessment would cure most of the shortfall

By Jay Gamel

The good news in the fiscal year 2021-2022 budget approved by the Kenwood Fire Protection District directors on Sept. 15 is that their capital fund has $2,330,459, even after transferring $100,000 to the operating budget.

On the other hand, the operating budget will fall $218,207 short of projected expenses, even if a proposed increase in fire assessments is passed on Nov. 2. Money from that increase will not be available until taxes are collected from the following year, according to Kenwood Fire Director Daymon Doss.

Kenwood Fire District expects to take in $44,000 from its 25-year-old residential assessment level of $40 per household. Residential properties provide the majority of those funds, Doss noted. It received another $888,000 from regular property taxes, and miscellaneous income — including $100,000 from the capital fund — brings total revenue to $1,085,697.

Projected expenses, however, jumped almost $200,000 from FY20-21 to $1,303,904, resulting in the shortfall.

The additional costs are mostly due to increasing firefighter pay 14 percent, part of an ongoing effort to pay competitive rates and retain personnel. Kenwood has the lowest pay rates in the county and it is difficult to find people to serve.

If Measure E passes, firefighters will receive another 11 percent increase.

“We’ve had to staff up,” Doss said. From a single paid employee 30 years ago and unpaid volunteers, the district now pays all staff, as well as for volunteer service.

Other factors are the continually increasing costs of equipment and training, more staff needed to service increased calls for emergencies and fires, the huge costs of wildfire containment, and keeping the fire station staffed to deploy at least two engines at any time, every day of the year.

Red Flag days also cost money

“We staff up because of that,” Doss said. “We are incurring expenses every time there is a Red Flag Warning or Fire Watch. It’s an extra expense beyond having two people here every day of the week. We have trouble controlling new expenses.”

And even with the current raises, KFPD is still below the 75th percentile compared to other fire departments, Doss said.

Measure E will increase income

A proposed revision of fire assessment rates to 12 cents a square foot for each assessed home and legal outbuildings will go a long way to ameliorate the income shortfall, Doss said. That measure has been designated “E” on the Nov. 2 ballot, which most people should have had mailed to them by now.

The new tax will bring in approximately $250,000 a year. Using himself as an example: “We’ve paid $40 a year for 26 years. The cost has never gone up. My new cost will be $198 for a 1,650-squarefoot home,” an almost 500 percent increase. Another way to look at it is an 11 percent increase per year over the 35 years the $40 rate was applied.

In that same time, the cost of housing has increased at a 16 percent annual growth rate (averaged).

“There is some talk about the large percentage of the increase,” Doss said. “People have to consider the change in level of services, cost of service, and no increase in the rate.” There will be a cost-of living-built into the new assessment.

“Nearly 85 percent of our calls are about health care: auto accidents, heart attacks, people who have had home accidents,” Doss said. “It is the firemen who are there. They make an assessment and know what to do. And it’s not just fire. All the many visitors that we have mean there are more accidents and people who need help wherever they are. Who do you think responds? We do.”

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