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Bodega Bay, other regional fire departments get consolidation funding

Sonoma County supervisors approved nearly $8 million in funding for a number of regional fire department consolidations, including one involving the financially struggling Bodega Bay Fire Protection District.

The plan, approved by the board in a unanimous 5-0 decision Tuesday, means the Sonoma County Fire District’s already large local jurisdiction, which semi-circles Santa Rosa, spans north to Windsor and then parts of the Russian River, will expand even farther to stretch along the coast of Bodega Bay.

It was among several fire-related matters discussed by the Board of Supervisors, which included the revival of a sales tax referendum to support area firefighting efforts that could possibly be placed on the ballot sometime next year.

The Bodega Bay consolidation, in particular, received a wave of support from residents and fire officials.

“What a great day. It’s been a long time getting here, as we know,” Elizabeth Martin, board president of the Bodega Bay agency, said.

Supervisors approved up to $1 million per year for two years to support the coastal fire agency and $7.9 million for all consolidation efforts. That overall amount includes another $3 million earmarked for Bodega Bay.

Other consolidations include: Gold Ridge Fire Protection District with North Bay Fire and Sonoma County, which requires $2.9 million for consolidation; and Northern Sonoma County Fire Protection District with Sonoma County, which needs $1.2 million to consolidate.

Funding will come from combinations of various sources, including the county’s general fund dollars, lodging taxes and property taxes.

Each consolidation is in a different stage and will ultimately require approval from the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission. Last week, though, representatives from the Bodega Bay and Sonoma County fire agencies met and approved terms for their consolidation.

On Tuesday, Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Heine reiterated that the “critical consolidation” between Bodega Bay and the county could happen by Jan. 1. He added that he is ready to “bring it across the finish line.”

The financially strapped coastal agency currently has nine full-time firefighters and paramedics and, during the July 4 weekend, each shift had two paramedics and one firefighter – down from an appropriate four or five firefighters.

Consolidation would increase staffing because not only would the county provide additional crew members, but a financial stable agency would be more appealing to prospective applicants, officials have long maintained.

Wildfires are relatively rare along the coast and consolidation supporters stressed Bodega Bay’s crew mostly handle emergency calls involving tourists.

Consolidation “is an asset and a necessity for our coastal tourism,” said Amanda Bryant, president of the Bodega Bay Chamber of Commerce.

In March, voters rejected the Measure B transient occupancy tax increase that would have raised about $2.7 million annually for fire services, as well as struggling schools in west county.

The measure was expected to alleviate Bodega Bay’s financial struggles and its rejection led to the departure of four fire staff members.

During Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors directed staff to coordinate with fire officials to develop an outreach and funding plan for a Sonoma County Wildfire Prevention, Emergency Alert, and Response Measure on next year’s ballot.

A half-cent sales tax increase, also proposed for fire services, was rejected by voters in March 2020 and officials blamed that on a lack of campaigning to educate Sonoma County residents on the measure.

“After the previous measures, we need to make sure everyone’s on board,” Supervisor David Rabbitt said Tuesday. “We want to make sure everyone’s driving in that direction at the same time.”

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi

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