Quincy residents to vote on fire fee

First baby of 2013
The Nussle family shows off their newest family member in this Saturday, Jan. 5 photo. Jonathan Christopher Nussle was born at 8:36 a.m. on Jan. 4 at Plumas District Hospital, making him the first baby born at the hospital in 2013.
Debra Moore

  The Quincy Volunteer Fire Department responded to 460 emergency calls last year, but now it’s the department’s turn to ask for help.

  Next June, those who reside in the fire protection district will be asked to approve Measure A, a $96 annual parcel tax assessment that will appear on property tax bills for five years.

  The measure is similar to one that was approved by 87 percent of the voters back in 2005. The measure sunset last year, forcing the department to dip into its building and equipment reserve fund to help pay its annual expenses.

  If that practice continued, the department would soon deplete its reserves.

  The fire department receives approximately $241,000 annually from its property tax allotment, against annual operating costs of $338,000.

  The fire department also conducts an annual pancake breakfast and a 50-50 fundraiser to augment tax revenue, but such activities can’t offset the annual deficit.

  More than a dozen concerned citizens have formed the Yes on Measure A Committee. Jesse Segura is the chairman of the group that includes Mike Beatty, John Breaux, Jim Boland, Dennis Clemens, Al Hansen, Ron Horton, Chuck Leonhardt, David Little, Cheryl Reinitz, Andy Ryback, Mike Taborski, Bill Wickman and David Windle.

  The committee will spend the next several months trying to raise the public’s awareness of the value the fire department provides its citizens and its need for additional funding.

  There are now three paid staff members: Chief Robbie Cassou, administrative secretary Yvonne Bush and mechanic/facilities manager Charlie Read.

  The 40 firefighters are all volunteers, as are commissioners Mike Taborski, Andy Ryback and Chuck Leonhardt.

  Without the tax measure, committee members say the department would be forced to cut services and staff.

  But Ryback, a commissioner and committee member, admitted that it would be difficult to reduce expenses.

  “The major costs are the salaries,” Ryback said, saying that about half is allocated to the chief and the remainder to the other two positions.

  In the absence of a paid chief, someone would have to volunteer and Ryback doesn’t think that is a practical option.

  “There is more and more pressure from federal agencies to keep fire departments functioning at a certain level,” Ryback said and then listed a number of requirements that must be met and documented. He said it didn’t make sense to “put that on volunteers to organize and complete in addition to risking their lives” fighting fires.

  If personnel can’t be cut, that leaves facilities. The department currently maintains three stations: Quincy, East Quincy and Chandler Road.

  “We could consolidate to one, but our response times would drop,” Ryback said, which could result in an increase in insurance premiums for homeowners. And consolidating the facilities wouldn’t come close to offsetting the deficit.

  When asked if he thought property tax allocations would ever be sufficient to cover fire district expenses, Ryback said, “I don’t see that scenario with current allocations. Barring some changes in the system, this will be a recurring theme.”

  The Quincy Fire Protection District is not alone. “Every small community faces this situation,” Ryback said. “Nationwide half of the firefighters are volunteers.”

  Measure A, just like its predecessor, is designed to sunset in five years and in the absence of a major change in funding, committee members know that another tax measure would need to be passed. So why not seek a longer term now?

  “The idea behind five years is that it provides constituents the ability to review our service,” Ryback said. “It gives them a voice.”

  He and other committee members are optimistic that voters will use that voice to grant the increase, but they take nothing for granted.

  They are aware that the economy is still recovering and many residents are now paying the annual CalFire fee.

  “The timing isn’t good,” commissioner Chuck Leonhardt said during a meeting in December, noting that the state’s fire bills for this year are due to be sent out this spring.

  That’s about the same time that ballots will be arriving in area homes. The vote-by-mail ballots are scheduled to be mailed May 6 and must be returned by election day June 4.

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