Increase in fire fees for Penn Valley?
For a small fire department, responding to multiple emergencies at the same time is a challenge. Having to respond to multiple calls at the same time several times each week can become downright dangerous.
The Penn Valley Fire Protection District has dealt with this problem for more than a year, having to rely on volunteers whenever the paid firefighters are on another call.
This November, Penn Valley residents will have a chance to increase the staffing of their department by four paid firefighters, with a self-imposed increase in a fire protection and medical emergency tax through “Measure R.” If the measure passes, the fire department will also be able to staff its station on Spenceville Road, increasing response time in the area.
“As we get busier and have the same resources, at some point in time we will have a delayed response,” Penn Valley Fire Chief Gene Vander Plaats said.
The fire chief cited the growth of the community and the increasingly
thin budget of the department as the combination that could create an emergency services void in Penn Valley.
“The service we have been providing may start slipping,” he said.
The fire department has two stations; one on Lake Wildwood Drive and a newer station on Spenceville Road. The latter was built in 2003 to protect the Penn Valley proper region but has never been staffed with full-time paid firefighters.
“The station was built two years ago ” there is equipment there,” said Rick Nolle, the chairman of resident-backed group “Citizens Committee for Measure R.” “There are no firefighters there.”
“Right now, the service is provided from Lake Wildwood,” Nolle said. “If you live in Penn Valley, that could be far.”
The special tax is similar to the one Nevada County Consolidated Fire District has proposed for its residents. The difference is that the measure is on the November ballot, while Consolidated is holding its own special election right now.
Currently, Penn Valley residents pay two special taxes: $47 a year for ambulance services and $11.22 for fire-suppression services. The measure, which nearly passed twice earlier, calls for those two taxes to be consolidated and increased.
For single-family homes, the tax’s annual cost would be $95. For apartments and mobile homes, the tax would be $70. In addition, there would also be a $45 tax on unoccupied parcels of land.
Currently, unoccupied land is not taxed in Penn Valley.
Commercial owners would be required to pay $48.84 per 1,000 square feet, about $14 more per 1,000 square feet than they do currently. Owners of campgrounds would be taxed $95 annually. Campgrounds are currently not taxed.
Measure R also allows a maximum increase of 5 percent in the assessment annually, based on inflation.
Vander Plaats said the measure would raise $275,000 for the department each year, although the money would not begin to flow in until November 2005.
Backers, including the 12-member Citizens Committee for Measure
R, have said the additional staff will allow the department to improve service and response time to emergencies by five minutes.
Nolle said that in the next month, group members will be distributing fliers, will be advertising and possibly running several radio spots to ensure the special assessment is supported.
Vander Plaats said neither he nor his firefighters can take a stand on the assessment but they can speak about the intensifying situation of the department: Summer and fall are the busiest seasons for the department. About three times each week, there are several emergency calls at the same time.
“The volunteers are dedicated people,” he said, “but they are not always available.”
Text of Measure R
Following is the exact wording of the measure Penn Valley area residents will see on the Nov. 2 ballot. It requires a two-thirds vote to pass.
Shall the existing special property taxes as adopted in 1981 and 1991 for emergency services be repealed and replaced by a single special property tax for fire, ambulance and other emergency services in the Penn Valley Fire Protection District, as established by the District’s Resolution No. 04-3, with an annual CPI increase not to exceed 5 percent, and a change in the District’s spending limit for four years to include all revenue, be approved?
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