Yes on Measure T
By Stephen Akre, Fire Chief, Sonoma Valley Fire & Rescue Authority
We have all seen the destruction that fires can bring and learned how much we need increased fire services and better prevention and preparation. Here at home, the Glen Ellen community was devastated by the Nuns Fire last October. Almost 200 homes were destroyed during this fire siege along with another 200 garages, barns, and other buildings. Most of the community that did not have their homes destroyed still felt the fire’s impact as they experienced an almost two week long evacuation from their homes.
We, the Glen Ellen Fire District Board and Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority (SVFRA), have learned from these experiences and are determined to take important steps to ensure that our community is better protected and prepared. In order to provide continued and improved services, the Glen Ellen Fire District Board of Directors placed Measure T on this November’s ballot.
The Glen Ellen Fire District currently operates with just two firefighters on its engine, while the national standard is four. We learned during and after the fires just how important this staffing standard really is. Measure T funds will enable us to fund a stipend firefighter position as the third firefighter on the engine. The stipend position will be filled by community volunteers and provides a great training and development opportunity.
Measure T funds will also be used to provide increased fire prevention, defensible space, and emergency preparedness programs in the Glen Ellen Fire District. As we learned last October, these programs will be of great importance in protecting our community during future fire events.
Measure T will ensure that the Glen Ellen Fire District will have enough revenue to continue to provide the existing level of service into the future, and make these meaningful improvements in emergency services. The current contract for services with Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue ensures that there are two firefighters on duty 24/7, including one paramedic. This contract began in July of 2017 and has resulted in a substantial improvement in service level (paramedics), reliability of response and response times for the Glen Ellen Community.
Many people may ask, “Why do we need Measure T?” Over the years, the Glen Ellen FD had faced a sharp decline in the number of volunteer firefighters available to respond to emergency calls. While there was a small daytime staff, volunteers were relied on for night and weekend responses. When this volunteer shortage resulted in the inability to provide an adequate response, the directors investigated other options for providing emergency service to the community. This resulted in the contract for services with SVFRA.
In spite of the long history of the GE Fire Boards’ dedicated fiscal responsibility, all parties understood that at the end of this five-year contract, expenditures would exceed revenues. Now, in the aftermath of the fires, the Glen Ellen Fire District is expected to lose an additional $76,000 annually in tax revenue until all properties are rebuilt. The Glen Ellen Fire District Board needs to be able to raise revenue in order to continue to provide emergency services and to make these important service improvements.
Measure T will allow the Board of Directors to levy up to a $200 parcel tax per residence and up to a $.10 per square foot tax on commercial properties. The District can set lower rates but cannot go above these maximum rates.
Measure T is required by law to have an annual public hearing with the Board of Directors to set the tax rate and make any corrections to conform with the approved tax rate schedule. At this public hearing, the Board will present a report detailing the revenues collected and expended in the previous year. This report will also include justifications for setting the amount of the tax rate.
In almost all areas of the Glen Ellen Fire District, residents have been paying an annual $117 Fire Fee to the State of California. This fee has been suspended by the Governor until at least 2031. This is nearly a 60 percent offset to the maximum local parcel tax being requested, and ALL of these funds stay local.
All of the Measure T revenue is required to remain here in Glen Ellen, under the control of the elected Board of Directors, and will fund continued and improved emergency services locally. The State or County cannot take Measure T money away.
Measure T will also apply to any future development or private use of buildings and land in what is currently the SDC. This is an important consideration as the SDC property is within the Glen Ellen Fire District. The SDC fire department is expected to close in July 2019, which will leave future service up to the Glen Ellen Fire District. Measure T’s application to SDC property will help to provide that service.
If you would like more detailed information on Measure T, please contact Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue at 996-2102.
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