Fire districts working on budgets, finances
Kenwood moving on parcel tax update; Glen Ellen merger looms
It's that time of year again, late spring when governments and groups put their next fiscal year budgets together. Kenwood and Glen Ellen fire district directors discussed their initial 2020-2021 projections at their respective Board meetings on May 12. Neither budget is final, but are not a whole lot different than last year, with Kenwood and Glen Ellen fire districts looking at approximately $1.3 million operating budgets, and both with uncertain income sources for the coming budget year, given the unknown but certainly negative impact of COVID-19 quarantines on state, county and other tax resources that traditionally support fire and emergency organizations.
The similarity stops at the similar spending projections. Kenwood is looking to increase its benefit parcel tax assessment from $40 per parcel to better match countywide rates and help improve KFD pay scales, the lowest in the county and not particularly attractive when hiring.
Glen Ellen, on the other hand, has a healthier maximum $200 per parcel rate, adopted two years ago, and will soon be merging with Valley of the Moon Fire District and most of Mayacamas FD, which was formerly run by a county agency. For now, however, each merging district will continue to produce its own budget for next fiscal year and all will be merged, according to Glen Ellen board chair Peter Van Fleet. Van Fleet was struggling a bit to cope with the loss of help from the Coronavirus quarantine, but promised all the data would be available to adopt a sound budget at the regular board meeting next month.
Both Kenwood and Glen Ellen have healthy bank accounts, with more than $2.4 million each, which can be used for capital purchases or reserves in many cases.
Kenwood Chief Daren Bellach said the board's ad hoc committee will meet once more to finalize the anticipated revenue from an increased benefit assessment tax to be scheduled for the November ballot. Once the final numbers are in and anticipated revenue is clearer, the district will retain a consultant to help with getting the paperwork in order, host public meetings to discuss the final proposals, and organize what it will take to get an increase approved by the district voters.
“It is crucial that everyone associated with the fire department be on board with this,” Board Chair Daymon Doss told the virtually convened meeting. “I've been closely monitoring the Geyserville attempt (at raising its parcel tax) and it failed, failed by three percentage points, almost the same tiny loss that Measure G lost by.” That measure was a proposed county-wide sales tax to fund fire services going forward indefinitely.
More information will be available about Kenwood Fire District's next steps soon, Bellach said.
Sonoma Valley Fire DistrictNow that LAFCO has approved the merger of Valley of the Moon and Mayacamas fire districts into the Glen Ellen Fire District (because it had the highest parcel tax), the emerging super-district will be named Sonoma Valley Fire District (SVFD) as of July 1, with a large board that will include several members of the existing boards for the initial terms, which will be staggered to prevent losing too much institutional memory in the next elections.
Valley of the Moon FD Chief Steve Akre will become the commander of the new, larger district. Integration is already well under way with training and assignments, though the quarantine has had an impact on just about everything, from training to handling emergency calls. Changing branding will take place over time, with the new name on top, and the originating station/location below.
Both Kenwood and Glen Ellen districts have enough emergency masks and other equipment for now, Bellach and Akre told their boards, and both departments have procedures in place to address personnel being exposed to the virus, though, fortunately, no one has been affected so far.