If there's a public agency out there with a good argument for why it needs a tax increase, it's the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District. Under the guidance of Chief Frank Treanor, this small district, serving Cotati, Penngrove and unincorporated areas near Petaluma, has gone far to live within its means.
It has cut operating expenses 25 percent, avoided salary increases four out of the past five years, modified its health plan for a savings of some $231,000 over four years and paid off its unfunded pension liability, something few agencies or municipalities can boast.
And yet, because of the decline in property values over the past four years, the agency continues to struggle to make ends meet. Facing a $300,000 shortfall this year, the district faces having to cut staff and close one of its three fire stations on a rotating basis.
To avoid that, the district is going to voters with Measure Z, a special tax of $60 per parcel. The tax would generate $426,000 a year, which would allow the district to plug its shortfall while also setting aside enough money to pay for new trucks and other apparatus that will need replacing in the near future. The special tax will expire in eight years, but by then the hope is property values will have recovered, bringing the district's other revenue back to a healthier place.
Measure Z is a modest tax increase that is not out to make anybody rich. The district will still be dependent on the support of nine volunteers, nine part-time firefighters who are paid minimum wage and 15 full-time firefighters whose pay, on average, is roughly 22 percent lower than firefighters in comparable districts in the county. As the fire chief notes, "We just want to keep us going." And keep the fire stations open 24/7.
To do so, the The Press Democrat strongly recommends a yes vote on Measure Z on Nov. 6.