Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties are facing tens of millions in tax dollar losses from October’s firestorms, but state financial aid could ensure the counties are able to maintain services, according to state Sen. Mike McGuire.
State officials are awaiting firm loss figures from county and city governments as well as public entities such as fire districts to use for a legislative proposal for reimbursing the losses, said McGuire, D‑Healdsburg. Sonoma County officials will seek lost property taxes as well as lost sales and bed taxes during the nearly two weeks last month the county virtually shut down during two massive fires, subsequent evacuations and hundreds of newly homeless residents.
“It’s been evident for weeks the state is going to need to backfill property tax dollar loss to ensure continuity of service now and into 2018,” said McGuire, adding that the help would be needed for additional years. While not yet an official proposal, McGuire said he was hopeful state officials recognized the significant disaster needs in the Northern California counties. The state financial action would be similar to the aid given Lake County following the 2015 Valley fire.
October’s fires brought unprecedented destruction to Sonoma County, where the Tubbs and Nuns fires wiped out more than 5,100 homes, and killed 23 people. The Tubbs fire now is the most destructive fire in state history and the costliest in U.S. history. But Napa County’s Atlas fire and Mendocino County’s Redwood fire also resulted in deaths and the loss of hundreds of homes. Lake County this year had damaging, but smaller fires.
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said a preliminary estimate is $30 million in property tax losses countywide with $10 million of that the county’s share. The city of Santa Rosa expected a $1.5 million property tax loss, said Debbie Lauchner, chief financial officer.
The hardest hit fire district was Rincon Valley with an estimated $1 million loss in property and parcel tax money from the incineration of at least 1,500 homes.
“The irony of a big fire is that it shuts down your fire station, or reduces staffing,” said Rincon Valley Fire Chief Jack Piccinini. “That’s the only place we can go with a million dollar hit. It’s really important we come together and try to develop a united message to get local, state and federal resources to help us address this two-to-five‑year issue.”
In Sonoma County, fires also burned hundreds of homes in the Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Bennett Valley fire districts, as well as Mayacamas, Knights Valley and Mountain volunteer fire company jurisdictions. Fire officials are awaiting county calculations to learn the depth of their projected budget deficits.
“It could affect our ability to provide service the same as we’re providing now,” said Steve Akre, Sonoma Valley Fire District chief. The district this year covers firefighting in Glen Ellen, which lost a total of 183 homes, or 12 percent of Glen Ellen’s 1,500 parcels and $1 million budget.
State bailout efforts could duplicate a financial aid plan used to help in Lake County after the Valley fire, which burned 76,000 acres, killed four and gutted several Lake County communities.
“We had a successful effort to backfill Lake County in 2015,” said McGuire. “We would like to be able to repeat that action in the four‑county region.”