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Sonoma County sales tax Measure G would give budget surge especially for rural fire agencies

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How the money would be divvied up

Spending from the half-cent sales tax is split into three categories: equipment and facilities, recruitment and retention of firefighters and everything else. The “everything else” category includes alerts and sirens, brush management and response. Some agencies will receive extra money for recruitment and retention of firefighters, and some will get revenue for equipment and facilities, according to the expenditure plan. Below are the estimated annual totals for each agency, based on county estimates that the tax would generate $51 million, as well as the percentages allotted to each agency in each category. Another 1.25% of the tax would be used to entice districts to consolidate.

Healdsburg - $785,400

Petaluma - $1,953,300

Rohnert Park - $2,514,300

Santa Rosa - $4,360,500

Sebastopol - $928,000

Sonoma - $2,193,000

Bodega Bay Fire Protection District - $1,071,000

Cazadero Community Services District - $1,116,900

Cloverdale Fire Protection District - $918,000

Forestville Fire Protection District - $1,234,200

Geyserville Fire Protection District - $2,728,500

Glen Ellen Fire Protection District - $576,300

Gold ridge Fire Protection District - $2,040,000

Graton Fire Protection District - $1,377,000

Kenwood Fire Protection District - $1,040,400

Monte Rio Fire Protection District - $3,304,800

North Sonoma Coast Fire Protection District - $1,183,200

Occidental Fire Protection District - $1,417,800

Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District - $795,000

Russian River Fire Protection District - $770,100

Schell-Vista Fire Protection District - $601,800

Sonoma County Fire District - $3,876,000

Timber Cove Fire Protection District - $132,600

Valley of the Moon Fire Protection District - $1,632,000

Bloomfield volunteer fire - $1,662,600

Bodega volunteer fire - $1,535,100

Camp Meeker volunteer fire - $158,100

Fort Ross volunteer fire - $346,800

Lakeville volunteer fire - $1,856,400

Mayacamas volunteer fire - $158,100

San Antonio volunteer fire - $0

Two Rock volunteer fire - $158,100

Valley Ford volunteer fire - $158,100

Wilmar volunteer fire - $1,759,500

Sonoma County regional vegetation management - $1,907,400

Sonoma County Emergency Management Department - $2,550,000

A half-cent sales tax measure slated for the March 3 ballot promises to raise about $51 million a year for fire service and prevention in Sonoma County, doling out, for example, $5.5 million to Santa Rosa and $3.3 million to the rural Monte Rio Fire District, part of an ambitious bid to lift the capability of all agencies to fight and avert disastrous fires, floods and more.

Measure G would pool sales tax receipts from across the county, including the biggest cities — Santa Rosa and Petaluma, which make up 60% of the sales tax base — and distribute it to 18 fire districts, 10 volunteer fire companies, six cities and two county departments or programs.

Some smaller fire districts will see their budgets double or even triple. But larger city departments, like Santa Rosa’s, the largest municipal agency, will get only a small boost. A Sonoma County-sponsored brush management program, as well as the county’s Emergency Management Department, would split $4.5 million, doubling their current combined budgets.

During an October board meeting, just four days before the Kincade fire broke out, Supervisor David Rabbitt, the board chairman at the time, touted the ballot measure as a way to extend modern, professional firefighting standards and service to the county’s rural corners.

“This was not an exercise in finding ways to spend a dollar amount,” Rabbitt said. “It’s not an opportunity for a tax. The tax is an opportunity to provide a much higher level of fire service that I think we all want in this county.”

The revenue would support the hiring of about 200 paid firefighters countywide and help achieve so-called silver level staffing standards at all agencies, at three per engine — still below what is expected in major metropolitan areas.

To get there, the county’s various fire districts will need some help. Extra staffing represents about half of the $51 million plan, with facilities and equipment upgrades, brush management and upgrades to county emergency alert and warning systems taking up the rest of the spending.

The plan would shift $4.5 million into county government coffers to overhaul the county’s oft-criticized brush management program and supercharge an emergency notification system county leaders say has dramatically improved since failures and missteps in the 2017 firestorm.

The $1.9 million that would be funneled into the county’s vegetation management program would more than double the current general fund allotment of $900,000 for the program, which officials have said is insufficient to keep up with the county’s need to clear fire fuel or maintain fire breaks.

The county has come up for criticism for failing to clear areas around county roads, even while inspecting and fining homeowners for hazardous brush buildup.

The county’s Department of Emergency Management would see a $2.55 million boost to its $3.6 million budget to bolster its work on emergency alerts. Emergency Management Director Chris Godley said the money would go toward warning systems, staff, training, technology and the creation of an emergency situation center at the current fire and medical dispatch headquarters. The county has no plans to build a new emergency operations center, Godley said.

The tax has no sunset date, though it could be repealed through a ballot measure.

Officials are pledging transparency and oversight in the form of a citizens committee, to be helmed by two supervisorial appointees, two members appointed by Sonoma County mayors and three Sonoma County Fire Chiefs Association appointees.

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com.

How the money would be divvied up

Spending from the half-cent sales tax is split into three categories: equipment and facilities, recruitment and retention of firefighters and everything else. The “everything else” category includes alerts and sirens, brush management and response. Some agencies will receive extra money for recruitment and retention of firefighters, and some will get revenue for equipment and facilities, according to the expenditure plan. Below are the estimated annual totals for each agency, based on county estimates that the tax would generate $51 million, as well as the percentages allotted to each agency in each category. Another 1.25% of the tax would be used to entice districts to consolidate.

Healdsburg - $785,400

Petaluma - $1,953,300

Rohnert Park - $2,514,300

Santa Rosa - $4,360,500

Sebastopol - $928,000

Sonoma - $2,193,000

Bodega Bay Fire Protection District - $1,071,000

Cazadero Community Services District - $1,116,900

Cloverdale Fire Protection District - $918,000

Forestville Fire Protection District - $1,234,200

Geyserville Fire Protection District - $2,728,500

Glen Ellen Fire Protection District - $576,300

Gold ridge Fire Protection District - $2,040,000

Graton Fire Protection District - $1,377,000

Kenwood Fire Protection District - $1,040,400

Monte Rio Fire Protection District - $3,304,800

North Sonoma Coast Fire Protection District - $1,183,200

Occidental Fire Protection District - $1,417,800

Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District - $795,000

Russian River Fire Protection District - $770,100

Schell-Vista Fire Protection District - $601,800

Sonoma County Fire District - $3,876,000

Timber Cove Fire Protection District - $132,600

Valley of the Moon Fire Protection District - $1,632,000

Bloomfield volunteer fire - $1,662,600

Bodega volunteer fire - $1,535,100

Camp Meeker volunteer fire - $158,100

Fort Ross volunteer fire - $346,800

Lakeville volunteer fire - $1,856,400

Mayacamas volunteer fire - $158,100

San Antonio volunteer fire - $0

Two Rock volunteer fire - $158,100

Valley Ford volunteer fire - $158,100

Wilmar volunteer fire - $1,759,500

Sonoma County regional vegetation management - $1,907,400

Sonoma County Emergency Management Department - $2,550,000

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