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Fire Protection Issues on Board of Supervisors’ Agenda

April 09, 2012

The Placer County Board of Supervisors will be presented with two items related to county fire protection at its regularly scheduled meeting in Auburn on Tues., April 10, 2012. The Board will hear a presentation on the Placer County Fire system and financial challenges in two critical fire service zones of benefit. In addition, the Board will be asked to approve a contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) for fiscal year 2012/13.

The $8.6 million contract will provide fire protection, prevention, emergency medical, hazardous materials and all hazard incident response, in addition to dispatch services for the county’s unincorporated area not already covered independent fire protection districts.

The two fire service zones of benefit hardest hit by reduced property values, Dry Creek and North Auburn Ophir Fire (NAOF), have structural deficits that will require a change in either expenditures or revenue. Both fire service zones are using limited reserves to maintain operations. At previous meetings, county staff has presented the Board with the results of studies showing a need to either reduce service or increase revenues in both areas.

With no action North Auburn Ophir Fire will continue to run operating deficits over the next 10 years. Existing reserves will be exhausted in FY 2013/14. By the end of FY 2020-21, North Auburn will have an operating shortfall of approximately $4.6 million. To avoid this situation, NAOF requires an additional $570,000 in annual revenues or service reductions in order to remain solvent.

In January, the Board approved giving the North Auburn, Ophir and Lone Star communities an opportunity to decide if they would be willing to tax themselves to keep their fire service whole. Measure D on the June 5, 2012, ballot avoids service reductions by keeping the local fire department solvent. The measure, which requires a super majority of voters (66.7 percent) to pass, asks voters to increase their direct charges for residential development by $40 per unit, $20 per mobile home in mobile home parks and commercial-industrial development by $.046 per square foot.

North Auburn Ophir Fire comprises two staffed stations operating three engines with six firefighters on duty for the community’s protection 24 hours a day. The annual call volume is approximately 2,400 calls for service, busiest in all of unincorporated Placer County. If Measure D does not pass, staff reductions are needed to meet the deficit resulting in longer response times and reducing the probability of a positive outcome. In addition, property owners should check with their fire insurance providers as many property owners policies may be impacted by increased insurance rates.

Due to contractual obligations, Placer County must inform CAL FIRE one year in advance of service deductions. The county informed CAL FIRE on Jan. 30, 2012 that if Measure D is unsuccessful, effective Jan. 30, 2013, staffing levels will need to be reduced so that the North Auburn Ophir Fire service area realizes $285,000 in savings for FY 2012-13 and $570,000 in savings for FY 2013/14 and beyond.

For Dry Creek, there is no immediate action as existing reserve balances designated for operations are sufficient to fund operating shortfalls through FY 2013/14. This can be accomplished without affecting reserves designated for capital replacement.