Sebastopol council wades into controversial waters with proposal for city’s fire department

The controversial proposal would consolidate Sebastopol Fire Department with Gold Ridge Fire Protection District.|

Should Sebastopol’s fire department merge with the nearby Gold Ridge Fire Protection District – which would increase taxes for city residents but, some say, could also potentially increase service levels?

The City Council took up that question Tuesday night for the first time since a May 2022 meeting about consolidation turned rancorous, with some residents and city firefighters saying that city officials had moved hastily and without addressing key specifics or gathering public and expert feedback.

No vote on the consolidation took place during the 6 p.m. meeting.

Instead, council asked questions of city staff and heard from the public, as well as from outside consultants, who were hired after the May meeting and, in a report submitted Tuesday, have recommended the consolidation.

The proposal outlined in the report by Matrix Consulting Group is likely to remain contentious, revolving as it does around issues that often provoke strong opinions and emotion: local emergency services and taxes.

In a Jan. 25 letter to the city that is representative of others submitted about the topic, Sebastopol resident Rachel Allen said: “I do not want to lose local control of our fire service. If my taxes and our city budget are going to fund a fire service, I believe the residents should retain control over how the money is spent, how it is generated and how service is delivered.”

A key point in the proposal is that consolidation would be achieved through the district’s annexation of the city of about 7,600, which would mean that Sebastopol residents and businesses would become subject to special taxes already in place without first being able to vote on them.

Interim Sebastopol Fire Chief Jack Piccinini said Tuesday before the meeting that city officials need to take more time to study the matter and better assess why they might want to pursue consolidation.

“We have failed to really drill down to what is the real interest of the council. To say, it’s what’s best for the community – well, you’ve got to drill down deeper than that.”

He added: “We have not yet provided the policymakers with enough information to make any kind of a decision, despite the recommendation at the end of that (Matrix) report.”

Gold Ridge Fire Protection District Chief Shepley Schroth-Cary told The Press Democrat in an email Tuesday that the district would support the consolidation if the city and fire department agree it is the best way to move forward.

“I support an improved level of service for the community of Sebastopol,” said Schroth-Cary. “Consolidation could be a pathway to achieving better response times and a sustainable work force. Consolidation can result in several efficiencies both fiscal and in the service delivery. ”

The Gold Ridge district covers about 75 square miles of unincorporated rural areas west and south of Sebastopol.

This story will be updated.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 707-521-5412 or On Twitter @jeremyhay

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