The Placer County Board of Supervisors today approved a contract for fire protection and other emergency services between the County and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). The Cooperative Fire Protection Agreement is for Fiscal Year 2011-2012 in the amount of $8.63 million. The contract for the upcoming fiscal year represents an increase of just under one-third of one percent over the previous year’s contract, while providing the same levels of service.
However, to attain that level of service, two of the County’s seven financially independent fire protection zones (Dry Creek and North Auburn/Ophir Fire) will experience revenue shortfalls and will have to use reserve funds to balance their FY 11/12 budgets. Dry Creek’s shortfall is projected to be $193,279; North Auburn/Ophir has a projected shortfall of $521,350. These shortages are primarily due to the reduction of property values in both areas, which has reduced tax revenues. Dry Creek and North Aubur/Ophir Fire are expected to have ongoing structural fiscal deficits. These will require cutting expenditures through a reduction in service levels, or by getting additional fiscal support from property owners that will then be used to backfill property tax losses. Using reserves that have been set aside over several years for contingencies, facilities, apparatus and equipment replacement is not sustainable. This is likely to cause long-term harm to community fire departments. The use of the reserves means that equipment will not be replaced as scheduled.
County staff is preparing two operational and financial studies that will analyze fire service in Dry Creek and North Auburn/Ophir. The studies will look at the levels of service and the necessary revenues to support those levels. In addition, staff will visit local groups and work on outreach efforts to inform each community that service level decisions need to be made locally. Analysis from the studies and community feedback will be presented during the Board’s final budget workshops in August. Staff will then implement the Board’s direction.
Service through the County’s CAL FIRE contract is for year-round, all-hazard fire and emergency services over about 475 square miles, which is nearly one-third of the County. The service population is approximately 45,000 and is provided through a combination of full-time and volunteer fire fighters. The contract approved by the Supervisors pays for 62 full-time firefighters operating from eight fully-staffed, 24-hour fire stations in Alta, Colfax, Bowman, North Auburn, Ophir, Lincoln, the Sunset Industrial Area and Dry Creek.
About 100 volunteer firefighters operate out of the paid stations, in addition to six community volunteer stations in Dutch Flat, Fowler, Paige, Thermalands, Dry Creek and Sheridan.