Our View: Consolidation once again on the table
Nevada County is composed of fiefs.
They’re small to moderately sized jurisdictions within the county, some of which extend beyond its boundaries. School, water, fire and special districts are scattered across the land.
A visitor to Nevada County might think it odd that multiple school districts exist, instead of a city and county system. Or that several fire districts are here. Each one is focused on a specific geographical area, though they regularly cross lines to help in firefighting efforts.
It makes you wonder: Is this system as efficient as it could be? Can we improve on it?
Others are asking the same questions as the possibility of consolidating fire districts creeps forward.
Eight fire districts in western Nevada County have discussed consolidation for months. A community poll is in the works, which will gauge support for a tax measure to support the move.
That’s because consolidation won’t save money. It’s expected to improve fire protection, putting more staff in fire stations, but at a cost.
The eight fire districts, which don’t include Grass Valley and Nevada City, currently have a combined budget of about $13.5 million. The Western Nevada County Fire District — the name of the consolidated district — would need an estimated $23 million each year.
The success of any consolidation effort hinges on timing. This one is no different. Some may think money is coming down the pipeline, that last year’s Camp Fire has opened new spigots of funding.
There’s a problem with this thinking: When funding becomes available, everyone wants a slice. And there’s no guarantee this pie even exists.
And that leads us right back to whether this community is willing to fund a robust fire district through more taxes.
Consolidation isn’t a new idea. We’ve kicked around this can before. It always comes back to who’s paying the bill and who’s in charge. If we can agree on that, great. If not, it’s back to can kicking.
This effort must ensure services improve. Otherwise why agree to higher taxes? Response times must decrease and technical expertise increase. One large fire district must find efficiencies in employee pensions. Find the savings where you can, strengthen fire response and this county could very well vote itself a tax increase.
Alternatively, it could follow in the footsteps of Higgins Fire District voters, who have voted down higher taxes four times in 20 years, and is going for a fifth try next year.
Again, timing is key.
Consolidation supporters may find they have better luck during tough times. When money is scarce, and local governments or governmental entities find themselves unable to pay the bills, consolidation becomes more attractive. Administration is cut to save other jobs. Folks find themselves more willing to make it a reality when budgets get tight.
If that’s not the case, and voters don’t care for another tax, fire districts might find themselves preferring to keep their fiefs to themselves.
Consolidation efforts have failed before, and this one may fail as well. But these talks should continue. If you receive a community poll, answer it honestly and return it. Attend the board meetings of your local fire district. Talk to your representatives on those boards and hear their thoughts on consolidation.
And if it comes to a vote, make sure you vote.
We might live in different fiefs, but it’s all the same kingdom.
Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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