Fire district to ask for higher fee |

Fire district to ask for higher fee

In 1996, Bill Clinton was re-elected, Atlanta hosted the Olympic Games, and property owners in a large section of Nevada County voted to tax themselves $30 a year for 10 years to improve their fire department.

Measure I passed after a contentious debate that spawned a group opposed to the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District and slashed the cost of the fee.

Flash forward eight years. District property owners will have the opportunity to renew the expiring Measure I fee this September. The consolidated department is proposing a new $1.3 million assessment district that would increase homeowners’ annual fees $59 to $89 a year.

To pass, the fee will need to be approved by more than 50 percent of property owners, who do not have to be registered voters to vote.

The assessment will replace existing taxes in Watt Park and the 49er region, which have joined the consolidated district since 1996.

The property owners’ approval is pivotal for the district, Consolidated Fire Chief Tim Fike said. The 1996 assessment generates $345,000 annually, a critical chunk of NCCFD’s $3 million budget.

If that money disappears in two years, the district will be forced to close fire stations at Alta Sierra and Ridge Road and lay off nine firefighters, Fike said.

“It’s critical for the district that the public is aware of the scenario we’re in,” Fike said.

This is not the first time the district has attempted to fix its financial problems. Voters defeated a special tax in November 2002, a defeat for which Fike accepts responsibility.

“The reason it didn’t pass is we didn’t do a good job of educating the public,” Fike said. “(This time) we’ve kept the public in mind all along.”

Fike said off-duty firefighters and several property owners plan to voluntarily attend homeowners’ meetings and go door-to-door to discuss the assessment and answer questions. The department will also mail informational brochures to the 18,000 property owners included in the district.

The district would use the $1.3 million to staff a new fire station in Alta Sierra, staff a station on Banner Mountain and replace engines and other safety equipment. The assessment would replace money from the current tax, which is used for operating expenses.

The new Banner Mountain station will be constructed using other sources of revenue and by selling two properties on the mountain, Fike said.

“This is not going to be a big fancy fire station,” Fike said. It would hold two engines and be staffed with six firefighters. No sites for the station have been selected yet, Fike said.

Staffing Alta Sierra 24 hours a day is “critical,” Fike said. “We leave a big hole right in the middle of the Sierra.”

If passed, assessments will begin in December 2005. Property owners would pay:

•$35.60 for a mobile home

•$66.75 for a condominium

•$133.50 for a residence with a granny unit

•$26.70 for unimproved parcels

For the property owners who feel they shouldn’t have to pay for a new station in Banner Mountain, Fike emphasized the cooperative nature of firefighting.

“A fire requires more than one engine to put it out,” Fike said.

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