The ongoing economic meltdown has created lots of pain in Nevada County - including job loss, reduction in wages, and a drastic devaluation of local real estate values.
For many, the decline in property values has resulted in sizable reductions in property taxes. Although good for the property owner, this devaluation has resulted in millions of dollars of lost revenue to fund desperately needed basic services, including fire protection, medical and multi-hazard emergency response.
Nevada County Consolidated Fire District is responsible for providing emergency services to 150 square miles of western Nevada County serving about 35,000 residents. Last year, the fire district's personnel responded to over 5,200 emergency calls for help.
Because of property re-evaluation, the fire district has lost over $260,000 in property revenue per year since 2009. Additionally, annual revenues from new home construction and commercial mitigation fees have dropped $320,000 since 2006.
All of the district's personnel have worked diligently with the district's elected board of directors to reduce costs everywhere possible to maintain emergency services. This includes district employees voluntarily eliminating salary increases and other concessions, which results in a 7 percent cut in salaries as well paying for a larger portion of their medical benefits. Many other cost-cutting measures have also been implemented to date.
To reduce costs even further, two years ago the district opted not to replace personnel lost to attrition. Unfortunately, by August of this year, it became impossible for the district to consistently staff emergency personnel 24 hours a day on all our first-out fire engines. This resulted in rotating station closings ("brown outs") of three of fire stations and a decrease in available emergency resources.
In November, the the district board reluctantly decided to ask citizens to restore the revenues lost over the past years, as well as decide upon what level of emergency services they would like us to provide in the future. In early February, all registered voters within the District will receive a mail-in ballot asking them to support a small, additional assessment on their property. The size of this new assessment varies by the various types of property owned as outlined below:
Residential Dwelling Unit: $52.00 for the first dwelling unit; Residential Dwelling Units (if more than 1 unit): $39.00 for each additional dwelling; Mobile Homes: $39.00 per unit; Unimproved Property: $26.00 per parcel; Commercial, Industrial, Office, Recreational Property: $00.04 per square foot; Commercial with sprinklers installed $00.02 per square foot.
Ballots will be received in the mail around Feb. 8, and they must be returned by mail by March 6 to be counted. This measure will only become law if 67 percent of the voters approve the measure. Your "yes" vote is extremely important if you want the district to maintain its existing level of service.
We fully expect that even with the requested revenue increase, the economy over the next few years will continue to challenge our management's ability to maintain quality emergency services in Nevada County. But without this increase, there is no doubt that very significant cuts in personnel will have to be implemented immediately. Such cuts would significantly increase response time. In an "extremely high fire danger area," like Nevada County, minutes can make the difference between a minor house fire and a raging wildland fire.
For less than a cup of coffee a week, voters can secure the existing, quality emergency response service they desire and deserve.
Additional information is available on our website: nccfire.com or contact us by phone at (530) 273-3158. We look forward to answering your questions.
Warren Knox is the Chairman of the Board of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District and resides in the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District.