Penn Valley gets new chief |

Penn Valley gets new chief

For the new chief of Penn Valley’s fire department, the top priority is staffing the department’s Spenceville Road station, which has lacked paid firefighters for about a year.

That goal could finally come to fruition in November. After several split votes by the Penn Valley Fire Protection District’s Board of Directors, the board recently voted to ask voters in November for an increased fire tax that would provide the financing for several firefighters.

“We (will) go to the people and ask ‘What level of product do you desire?'” new Fire Chief Gene Vander Plaats said. “The dollar here is stretched amazingly thin.”

Currently, Penn Valley residents pay two special taxes: $47 a year for ambulance services, and $11.22 for fire-suppression services. The November ballot measure, which has been discussed previously, 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.

“We haven’t had a tax increase since the ’80s and things have changed since then,” board member George Mueller said.

If the measure passes – it had nearly passed twice earlier – two or three full time firefighters would be hired for the station.

“This place should be run like a business – efficiently and effectively,” Vander Plaats said. “It’s a little scary when you get one call followed by another call (and there are no firefighters to respond to it).”

The tax measure was one point that had polarized the board of directors. The other was management of the fire district.

Since 1989, Penn Valley fire had been managed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. CDF supplied the fire department with a chief who had to report to them as well as the Penn Valley fire district board of directors.

Board member Roberto Garcia said in January that the district had been mishandled and mismanaged, and that public money has been wasted because of that. That was one reason that he voted previously to not put the measure on the ballot, he said at the time.

That conflict was solved when the CDF contract expired in June and the board decided to hire its own chief. Vander Plaats, formerly chief of the Ripon Consolidated Fire District, where he had spent 28 years, started June 21.

“We had an excellent relationship with CDF, but some people figured that it was time for a change,” Mueller said.

Garcia said it is time to stop looking at the disagreements the board has had in the past and look to the future of the fire department. All of the board members support Vander Plaats, he said.

“He is going to do very well – no doubt about it,” he said, adding that he is no longer worried about mismanagement at the district.

“That’s changed now, and it is all important to pass the ballot measure,” Garcia said. “CDF has a station in Smartville and they are responsible for the unincorporated areas of the state, which includes our fire district. They are still here, and they are still appreciated.”

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