Penn Valley Fire set to ask for property assessment increase |

Penn Valley Fire set to ask for property assessment increase

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Penn Valley Fire Protection District’s board of directors will move forward with a vote-by-mail ballot for a property assessment increase, despite the challenges inherent in pushing for more funding during the COVID-19 crisis.

The assessment increase of $215.87 would affect each parcel of land within the fire district. The annual fee for each improved parcel will change from $80.54 per year to $296.41.

“This is a very important issue and it is an admittedly challenging time to effectively communicate with parcel owners,” says Penn Valley Fire Citizens Committee Treasurer Steve Roddy. “We are placing signs and providing handouts in open businesses that direct parcel owners to our website. It’s very different from a normal campaign where we could simply meet with voters to explain the necessity of getting this passed.”

Roddy, a retired elementary school teacher, says the committee will rely heavily on social media and virtual house parties to reach parcel owners.

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“For as long as Nevada County remains under the COVID-19-related stay-at-home recommendation, we will be limited to virtual communication,” he said. “We hope the community will assist us by sharing our Facebook posts and calling or emailing their neighbors.”

Unlike a primary or general election ballot initiative, only legally recognized parcel owners, not registered voters, will be provided a ballot. The parcel owner will be allowed to vote once per parcel owned.

The ballots will be mailed out April 18 and parcel owners will have 45 days — until the June 2 board meeting — to return them, said committee member Joey Jordan.

At that public meeting, the board will invite comment and input from the community and then will ask for any final ballots to be handed in, Jordan said. All ballots previously returned by mail or hand delivered will be counted.

Ballots must be signed by the legal owner, and 50% plus one of returned ballots must vote yes to succeed.

The increase, which amounts to less than 60 cents per day, will hire and retain six new full-time firefighter/paramedics in order to increase the staffing of each shift by 50%, proponents say.

Penn Valley staffs two firehouses: Station 43 on Spenceville Road and Station 44 at the main gate to Lake Wildwood. At any given time there is personnel to operate two sets of equipment, ambulance or engine, half the national staffing standard. The increased will provide the ability to operate three vehicles per shift, providing faster response.

“We are beginning to experience response challenges when two and increasingly three calls come in an hour,” said Penn Valley Fire Chief Don Wagner. “We simply don’t have the staff to cover that level of volume. Calls for service have increased 62% since we approved the previous assessment in 2005.”

Because Penn Valley firefighters are also highly skilled paramedics, they are increasingly sought after by regional departments with the ability to offer better compensation, Wagner said.

“Some of our full-time guys are literally taking home less than $30,000 a year,” he added. “We’ve lost 19 highly trained staff members in the past five years because we can’t begin to compete with some of our neighboring agencies.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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