Bodega Bay, Sonoma County fire districts OK consolidation

Officials with the Bodega Bay Fire District have accepted the terms of a long-pursued consolidation plan with the Sonoma County Fire District, a move that some believe will save the financially troubled agency along the North Bay coast.

Board members from each fire agency held a joint meeting in Bodega Bay on Tuesday night, which ended with a unanimous decision from each group to accept the terms put forth by Sonoma County ahead of an upcoming discussion on consolidation funding.

“This is probably the closest and most positive step we’ve been able to take toward consolidation,“ said Bodega Bay Fire Protection District Asst. Fire Chief Steve Herzberg.

The terms of their agreement are laid out in a Board of Supervisors staff report, which essentially summarizes the steps that will be taken toward consolidation.

Funding will be discussed during next week’s Sonoma County Board of Supervisors regular meeting in Santa Rosa.

Under consideration are an allotment of as much as $1 million per year for two years to support the financially struggling Bodega Bay fire agency and $7.9 million that will cover for consolidation efforts for other needy agencies across the county. 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 is coming from combinations of various sources, including the county’s general fund dollars, lodging taxes and property taxes.

Supporters of Bodega Bay’s consolidation with Sonoma County are expected to attend the July 20 Board of Supervisors meeting and push for the approval of the funding.

“I’m quite confident we can have consolidation fully completed by the first of next year at the latest,” Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Heine said during Tuesday night’s meeting.

Att A - Preliminary Term Sheet.pdf

Once that happens, it will likely put an end to the money troubles of a coastal fire department that provides service mainly to tourists in an area where medical emergencies outnumber calls to battle wildfires.

”Where we are today is really the product of a lot of very, very hard work, steadfast work, by a lot of people,“ Herzberg said. ”And it’s been the product of a lot of people having faith in the ultimate goal and staying the course even though the course was twisted and windy.“

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.

As the agency’s financial status weakened, officials struggled to find people to work there since long-term job security was questionable. After Measure B failed, four fire staff members left and a $900,000 fiscal year deficit was projected.

Bodega Bay currently has nine full-time firefighters and paramedics.

It operated with a skeleton crew during the July 4 weekend, when each shift had two paramedics and one firefighter, which was down from an appropriate four or five firefighters.

Consolidation is expected to stabilize Bodega Bay, attracting more staff and improving levels of fire and emergency medical services.

“Of particular interest for me is being able to enhance the service levels provided in west county, particularly as it applies to EMS services,” Heine said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that, if combined, we will be one singular, strong agency and will see a significant improvement in services that can be offered to all of us and the residents.“

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at On Twitter @colin_atagi

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