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Revenue sharing with county will boost fire support

“Timely, since a ballot measure for new fire tax this year looks doubtful,” Supervisor Gorin

By Jay Gamel

After years of struggling to negotiate acceptable language for financial support from Sonoma County while abiding by the county’s decision to no longer be directly involved in fire protection and to merge independent districts into larger, more efficient organizations, Kenwood Fire Protection District’s Board of Directors unanimously approved an agreement that will provide $300,000 a year for the next two fiscal years and $180,000 annually after that “in perpetuity.” The agreements include annual cost of living increases.

Supervisor Susan Gorin made a rare appearance following her regular Tuesday duties at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting earlier in the day. She came expressly to urge the Kenwood fire board to ratify the agreements reached just days before and was very pleased at the unanimous support.

“This was really important,” Gorin said after the meeting. “The county recognizes how difficult it is for the district to operate without being able to pay staff good wages. We need to pull together to make that happen.”

A very low parcel tax base for over three decades pushed the district further and further behind the rest of the county’s many fire districts, both in operating income and pay scales, to the point it could not meld with other districts or even present as an attractive partner.

The agreement was reached one day before the deadline to submit to the county to make the Jan. 25 regular supervisor’s meeting for approval. The decision was made at the year’s first regular fire district board meeting.

The Glen Ellen, Mayacamas, and Valley of the Moon fire districts merged several years ago, but Kenwood was not a viable candidate because of low district revenues and consequent low pay scales.

The recent passage of Measure E, boosting the KFPD’s local parcel tax, was a good step forward, but not enough to bring the district’s income up to county-wide levels of funding. The county contributions will make it possible for the district to consider future consolidation efforts, as well as make it more attractive to future merger partners.

Fire Chief Daren Bellach estimated the new parcel tax may yield up to $360,000 or more, starting with the first assessment this fall.

As outlined in the board packet materials (posted online), the county agrees to provide stabilization payments of $120,000 for two fiscal years (FY begins on July 1) and to provide $180,000 supplemental payments “in perpetuity,” though there are conditions and exceptions.

For full details, the new agreements are posted at the KFPD web pages at kenwoodfire. com.

Other news

The board gratefully accepted a detailed report of the district’s reserve funds prepared by director Jack Atkin and Fire Captain Tony Ghisla, both of whom have extensive financial experience. The report, also posted at the district’s website, is a first for the district and provides a guideline for fiscally managing future replacement costs with annual projections and goal setting.

Veteran fireman, ex-fire chief, and recently appointed Fire Director Bob Uboldi was chosen to chair the board for the next year. He will be seconded by last year’s chair, August Moretti, who will become vice chair.