Fire Alarm

“We tried to keep the amount low enough to get what we need and only what we need,” NCFPD board chair Don Chapin says of the tax.

The math is not adding up for the North County Fire Protection District. The special district is one of the busiest in the county, covering 125 square miles that include high-volume highways and at least 42,000 residents, with three stations and 31 firefighters. Officials say they could use a fourth station and more staff to improve response times, as well as new equipment to replace what’s wearing out.

It’s been a struggle just to maintain current levels of staffing and service over the last several years, ever since the power plant in Moss Landing was devalued about a decade ago after the state changed how it assessed the plant’s property value. Previously, the fire district received approximately $1 million a year from Dynegy’s property taxes, but now it receives between $300,000 and $400,000 from the new owner, Vistra, according to Don Chapin, chairman of NCFPD’s board.

Things are about to get worse. A two-year $1 million federal grant runs out in February 2019, and if the money isn’t replaced, two to three firefighters will face layoffs. The district has already tapped into its reserves.

“We have some reserves and we continue to chew into our reserves more and more every year,” Chapin says. As a new fiscal year begins, they’ve dipped into reserves yet again: “We’ll either have to cut staff or cut services.”

Feeling as if there was no time to waste, the district’s board voted 5-0 on July 17 to place a tax measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. If approved, the measure would place a tax of $39 per residential parcel, $63.75 per vacant parcel and 10 cents per square foot of industrial properties. It’s expected to bring in $963,000 annually, with no end date.

The measure requires two-thirds support to pass. A survey the district conducted in March and April showed that registered voters were likely to support a tax at those levels.

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However, results showed voters weren’t willing to support a measure that would give the total amount needed just to stay at current levels, $1.7 million, Interim Chief Richard Hutchinson says. (That tax would have been $120 per residential parcel and 20 cents per square foot of industrial.)

Recent news of potential new energy storage projects by PG&E and Tesla in Moss Landing give district officials hope for increased property values there, leading to more revenue in the future.

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