Glen Ellen, Mayacamas and VOM merger underway
The devil is in the details!
While consolidating dozens of independent fire districts in Sonoma County into fewer, more manageable and efficient entities makes sense to most people, getting there has proven to be difficult, prickly and fraught with egos and identity issues mixed with long histories of proud service to the communities these fire districts have served so long. Not to mention a host of disparate finances, policies, sizes and other differences.
Three out of six of Sonoma Valley’s fire districts formally agreed last year to merge – Glen Ellen, Valley of the Moon, and Mayacamas – and become the Sonoma Valley Fire District. However, Kenwood, Schell-Vista, and the City of Sonoma all dropped out, each for different reasons. The remaining territories are expected to eventually also be annexed by the new district.
The proposed Sonoma Valley Fire District will serve approximately 25,000 residents covering a total of 67 square miles, as well as another 11,000 residents through a contract with the City of Sonoma.
Kenwood’s Fire Protection District serves approximately 4,000 residents over 40 square miles, and the Schell-Vista Fire Protection District serves approximately 6,500 residents over 100 square miles. The City of Sonoma will continue to contract for its fire services.
Mayacamas is a special district administered by the county (along with several other very small fire districts). The supervisors approved transferring $51,093 in fire related property taxes, $92,000 of its Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget, and $158,000 in Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue already set aside for Mayacamas fire protection. The small, all-volunteer fire district is first responder for thousands of acres of trees along the east slope of the Mayacamas mountain range rising above the valley floor.
Funding to improve service delivery in the Mayacamas territory and incentivize annexation was included in the Measure G Expenditure Plan. If the half-cent sales tax for fire protection – Measure G – is approved on March 3, there will be no need for the TOT payment to be ongoing. Otherwise, it will remain intact for at least another fiscal year.
If the annexation is approved by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), the newly formed district will also overlay a parcel tax of approximately $200 per parcel approved by the voters of Glen Ellen, and generate approximately $2 million for the new district, of which approximately $47,000 will come from the Mayacamas territory. The district would also cancel the Mello Roos Community Facilities District tax approved by the Mayacamas voters in favor of the Glen Ellen parcel tax that has historically generated approximately $20,000 annually. The area that will be serviced by the new district will receive approximately $2.7 million annually from the Measure G sales tax. The new district will use new Measure G funds to hire approximately 12 firefighters, six paramedics, and a fire prevention officer.
LAFCO, which is responsible for all special districts in the county, agreed to go forward with the application made last December and will host a public hearing for interested parties to air their thoughts and ask questions about the process. LAFCO is required to consider a range of issues, including local sentiment and the effect of any changes on the ability of the affected agencies to deliver required services.
Anyone may provide oral or written testimony on the merger. As of now, copies of all documents relating to the hearing may be reviewed at the LAFCO office at 111 Santa Rosa Ave., Suite 240 in Santa Rosa. Written comments must be submitted by Feb. 24. Written comments received after that date will be provided to the commission at the public hearing.
As structured, the Glen Ellen fire district will absorb the two others, as its boundaries were extended to absorb them last year. The remaining districts all have “zero” spheres of influence, with the expectation that they will come on board eventually.
Owners of property within the Valley of the Moon Fire Protection District and within the Mayacamas Volunteer Fire Company service area would be subject to special taxes, in the form of assessments that have been established by the Glen Ellen Fire Protection District, upon annexation. Those are currently a maximum of $200 per parcel per year. There are different rates for commercial parcels and others that aren’t residential.
The hearing is set for 2 p.m. on March 4 at the Board of Supervisors chambers on Administration Drive in Santa Rosa. At the hearing, LAFCO will hear any relevant oral or written testimony and evidence presented or filed regarding the proposed reorganization.
Property owners will receive a postcard by mail that they can return with a no vote; all other eligible voters living in the relevant areas may register their displeasure online or by mail, according to LAFCO Executive Director Mark Bramfitt.
“We’ll have a form on the website,” Bramfitt said, “but we only require four things: printed name, address where registered, signature, and a date.” These need to be sent to the LAFCO office in Santa Rosa.
If LAFCO agrees to move ahead with the merger on March 4, members of the districts will have from 31 to 61 days to vote against it, with the number of days being set by several factors. Bramfitt expects there will be 45 days to get those cards and letters in.
If 25 percent of either the landowners or registered voters in the fire district return ‘no’ votes, the issue will go to the November ballot. If 50 percent of either group are negative, the whole issue fails.
“If people have any questions about the taxes, they can call and find out what their tax rates will be,” Bramfitt said. That number is 565-2577. The LAFCO website is sonomalafco.org.