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Future of Penryn Fire District uncertain

Residents approved funding measure in 2017
By: Steve Archer, Reporter
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Placer County’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to create a special committee to address fire services in the county and, specifically, financially-distressed fire districts, including the Penryn Fire District.

The fire services’ ad hoc committee is expected to work with county staff to put together a comprehensive public education and outreach campaign. The campaign will evaluate standards of fire coverage and related costs and conduct surveys and community forums to measure public support for consolidated fire services.

Placer County Supervisors Jim Holmes and Jennifer Montgomery will represent the board on the committee. Other members have not yet been selected.

 The Board of Supervisors also voted unanimously to pay for a special district election for the Foresthill Fire District regarding a parcel tax to help keep the district open. A similar measure failed last year in Foresthill.

Brian Myers, a former Penryn Fire District board member, is concerned with the Penryn district’s future and fire protection, especially considering that Penryn residents last year passed Measure A that provides approximately $900,000 yearly toward district funding.

“It’s frustrating,” Myers said. “We were told to pass the measure and the county would step up. We did. It’s been a year since and nothing has happened and nobody has put a plan in place.”

“Every study shows the district can’t tax itself enough,” Myers added. “It takes about $1.5 million per year to run a fire station and there are 1,200 taxable parcels in Penryn. Measure A provides $315 per parcel per year and it takes $700 per parcel per year to fully fund the district.”

Placer County Supervisor Jim Holmes, whose district includes Loomis and Newcastle, said the goal is to preserve the Penryn Fire District but that it will likely involve a higher tax on property owners.

“We have to work with the community and have them raise their parcel assessments,” Holmes said. “We need to explain to the community the need for more funding. There is funding in Penryn but not enough for sustainability. It’s a complex issue.”

“We have to look at the way fire service is provided by special districts,” Holmes added. “It’s just not feasible to continue the way we are doing it. The counties never had a mandate to provide fire service when they were formed. Cost increases forced volunteer fire departments to hire professional firefighters.”

Holmes said the county is “not going to throw money” at the problem.

“We have to look at maybe bringing the fire districts together and creating an economy of scale,” Holmes said. “I’m not sure the Board (of Supervisors) has an idea of a way to move forward. The cities are in the same boat as well. It’s a challenge all the way around but we have to fix the special districts first.”

According to a report by Placer County Treasurer-Tax Collector Jenine Windeshausen, “Financial Review: Areas of Distressed Fire Service in Placer County,” three long-standing and institutionalized issues need to be addressed:

  • Property taxes are insufficient to support basic levels of service
  • Growth in fire service costs have outpaced growth in revenues
  • Population growth and an aging population are increasing demand for services.

Fire protection in Placer County is provided by 17 separate fire agencies and by Placer County through a contract with CAL FIRE, also known as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.