County role in pay for firemen limited
This guest column is in response to a question asked of me by Barbara Janis of Meadow Vista in her letter to the editor dated Feb. 12, 2006. She asked . "So, Supervisor Jim Holmes, could you please explain why we, as a county, are not supporting our fire-fighters in the same way we are supporting our deputies?"
Please allow me to first explain some local government structure.
The County Role in Local Government.
California has 58 counties, each of which is governed by a five member Board of Supervisors whose members are elected by the voters. All fifty-eight County governments are essentially arms of state government and provide a wide range of mandated services. The principle services counties provide are: law enforcement which includes sheriff services, district attorney services, probation services, and jails; health and welfare services, which include animal control services; land use and development decision making and permitting; election services, and public finance services, which include, property assessment and tax collection; among others.
The Independent Fire District Role in Local Government.
Although Placer County as the county government does provide fire protection services to certain areas, through a contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, please note that fire protection services are not mandated to county government by the State of California. Most fire protection services in unincorporated Placer County, which are those areas outside of city jurisdictions, are provided by independent fire protection districts. There are currently 11 independent fire protection districts in Placer County. Each district is governed by an independently elected board of directors.
County Boards of Supervisors have no statutory oversight or authority over these independent government entities. These fire protection districts receive funding directly from their own share of the base property taxes paid by property owners who live in the district boundaries. Each fire protection district has a different property tax base. In other words, some districts have a higher level of revenue than others due to the property tax base in each district established by Proposition 13.
As an example, if your residence is in Meadow Vista, your fire protection services are governed by and the responsibility of the board of directors of the Placer Hills Fire Protection District, (an excellent provider of fire protection and public safety, I must add). The fine staff of men and women who perform these services are the employees of the Placer Hills Fire Protection District not Placer County. Again, the Placer County Board of Supervisors has no legal jurisdiction over independent fire district affairs, employee compensation, levels of service or governance.
Please know that this Placer County Supervisor and his fellow supervisors are acutely aware of the financial challenges facing our independent fire protection districts. I have worked tirelessly to help find solutions to these challenges and will continue to do so until all the citizens of Placer County have quality fire protection. For example, on April 10, 2006, the Placer Consolidated Fire Protection District dissolved. Their Board of Directors recognized that with the increasing shortfall of revenues, a quality level of service was not sustainable. They approached the Placer County Board of Supervisors to help find solutions. The County Executive Office and the Placer Consolidated staff worked for over a year to find a revenue neutral solution that integrated the Placer Consolidated Fire Protection District into the Placer County Fire system. This solution will enhance the level of service to the residents of North Auburn, Bowman, and Ophir at no increase of taxes. The Placer Consolidated Board of Directors is to be commended for this visionary approach to a longstanding problem.
Hopefully as other fire districts move forward and ask their constituents for appropriate funding, those requests will be granted by their electorate, which in turn will help provide just compensation to those men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our citizens.
Jim Holmes is a Placer County supervisor who represents the greater Auburn area.