READER’S EDITORIAL: CITIZEN’S INITIATIVE TO REPEAL AND REPLACE JULIAN-CUYAMACA FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT BENEFIT FEE

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By Pat Landis

November 10, 2017 (Julian) -- Citizens residing within the boundaries of the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District (JCFPD) are proposing for adoption the repeal of the existing annual benefit fee approved in 1984, to be replaced with an annual benefit fee more consistent with current expenses, and to raise the level of service for emergency medical response, fire suppression and related services within the boundaries of JCFPD.

Currently underway, volunteers are collecting signatures to place the Initiative on the June 2018 ballot. We must have 225 signatures but are planning to acquire 300 before the end of this year to secure the Initiative on the ballot. We are well on the way and confident we will achieve our goal.

The biggest change proposed will be an increase from $50 per year to $200 per year for a single family residence. To see the full initiative, go to: SupportJCFPD.org. Revenue from the benefit fee will increase from $105,000 to $450,000 annually. If the Initiative were proposed by a government agency such as JCFPD, it would require 2/3rds vote to pass. Since this is a citizen’s initiative, it requires only 50% + 1. Again, we are confident we will achieve this goal.

It is critical that this Initiative be approved by voters: (1) to replace the financial support and assets provided by San Diego County which will be discontinued on January 1, 2018; (2) to increase revenue commensurate with the increase in operational costs over the past 33 years; and, (3) to raise the level of service to the community.

Raising the level of service will be focused on by providing advanced life support (ALS) services to the community via a paramedic staffed fire engine. San Diego County and Cal Fire have stationed an ALS Engine in Julian for the past two years, but have stated this asset will be removed as of January 1, 2018, because JCFPD’s Board voted to decline the County proposal and to remain independent. 

The good news is that increased revenue will enable JCFPD to replace the County/Cal Fire ALS engine with one that is guaranteed to remain in the district. This is not true of any County or Cal Fire asset that can be deployed at any time it is urgently needed outside the district. This is one of the main reasons the community voiced loud resistance to dissolving our district and becoming dependent on a large, outside government agency.

At the October JCFPD Board meeting, Chief Marinelli explained that he had reviewed the possibility of putting our second ambulance into operation, especially on weekends and holidays, and determined this was not feasible due to staffing issues and the cost for maintenance of the vehicle. He concluded that the best course of action is to staff our engine with a paid paramedic and EMT. The district will not have the funds to implement this plan until after the proposed Initiative has passed and the district begins collecting the revenue.

The additional revenue will also enable JCFPD to hire a full-time Fire Chief. Chief Marinelli was hired part-time due to limited funds for this position, and he has stated he is not interested (after 30 years in the fire service) in working full time. Currently, Chief Marinelli works three days a week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday). JCFPD does not have the funds to hire another person to fill the gap when the Chief is gone, and applicable law prevents paying a volunteer to do this job. Therefore, we have no Fire Chief over 50% of the time. 

As a former JCFPD Board member who was involved in financial analyses and budgeting, I have prepared a proposed budget that assumes the additional revenue from the Initiative will be received. This budget was prepared with input from volunteer firefighters, paramedics and community members with expertise in budgeting. The JCFPD fiscal year begins on July 1st and this is how the budget could look for 2018-2019.

Revenue                                       

Benefit Fee                        450,000

1% Property Tax                185,000

Grant Income*                      60,000

Interest/Misc.                         1,000

Service Fees                          3,000

County Admin Fees              18,000

Total                                  717,000

Expenses                                                          

Grant Expense*                                       60,000

Grant Matching Funds*                            10,000

Capital Purchase                                      5,000

Communication-RCS                               20,000

Fleet / Fuel / Equipment                           50,000

Insurance / Legal / Audit                          75,000

Office Supplies / Misc. Supplies               15,000

Station Maintenance / Utilities                  25,000

Station Supplies                                        3,000

Full-time Chief                                       100,000

3 Paramedics                                        180,000

Stipend for 2 EMT firefighters                  75,000

District Secretary                                     41,000

Training                                                   10,000

Dispatch                                                 25,000

Total                                                     694,000                                                           

*Grant income and expense is zeroed out because what is received must be spent. Note, however, that grant funds can be used to pay items listed in the Expenses column, increasing funds available for staffing or other necessary items. The budget does not include funds received and used to pay for the station mortgage or the ambulance service (which is a separate contract). These are separate accounts and revenue equals expenses. If you look at JCFPD.com, you can match this proposal to the budgets for the three accounts for the existing year.  The JCFPD Capital Reserve account (savings) has a current balance of approximately $200,000. The proposed future budget provides for $23,000 to be transferred to Reserves or allocated as necessary.

There is no doubt this leaves the district still working on a tight budget, but this is how most small rural volunteer departments across the nation operate. There are 19,762 all-volunteer fire departments in the U.S. Only 4,617 volunteer departments provide EMS with advanced life support and this Initiative will allow JCFPD to join that distinguished group.

The proposed Initiative calls for a CPI increase each year, so we will not get caught in the same jam of not keeping revenue in line with expenses. Some JCFPD Board members believe the benefit fee should be raised as high as $450 per year, but the citizens who developed this Initiative believe that amount was untenable for this community and advocated for a more moderate increase.

One last comment: this year, we all paid $117 to California for the State Responsibility Area. These tax dollars went into the California general fund to provide education regarding fire protection. JCFPD, Julian and Lake Cuyamaca did not receive any of these funds or benefit from this tax. Probably, as a result of numerous lawsuits declaring this tax unconstitutional, the State Legislature suspended this fee and we will not be billed next year. In addition to the state tax, we paid a benefit fee of $50 to JCFPD. If we add $33 to our previous out-of-pocket costs we arrive at a $200 benefit fee.  In other words: $50 + $117 + $33 = $200. This increase is long overdue and a cost that most of us can afford. For low-income families there is a provision in the Initiative that relieves them of the increase in the benefit fee, so those families will actually realize a saving.

I want to thank JCFPD Board member Brian Kramer and qualified members of JCFPD for their help in assimilating the data for this budget. These JCFPD officers and volunteers have complete knowledge regarding the acquisition and staffing of reserve firefighters, and provided details regarding salary and staffing for a paramedic engine. These experts plus the long-time Volunteer firefighters have been supportive and are 100% behind the plan presented herein.

We must pass the initiative in June to maintain JCFPD and raise the level of service. Please make sure you are registered to vote in our Fire District and, more importantly, in June you must vote. Help us save our historic volunteer fire department, comprised of family, friends and neighbors dedicated to protecting their community and ours.

Keep up to date on our progress by visiting www.SupportJCFPD.org.

The views in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact editor@eastcountymagazine.org.

Comments

Initiative Petition

The petition to place the initiative on the ballot has been at several events and can be signed at the Wet Duck Designs across from the new fire station. Even if people aren't able to attend the board meetings, or don't want to, signing the petition will enable people to actually vote on this important community decision. Misinformation abounds, both on social and news media. Signing the petition will enable the initiative to be placed on the ballot so the public has the chance to sort through it and vote.