Sonoma County commits $9 million to unify and improve fire departments

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The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to approve a series of landmark agreements designed to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of Sonoma County Fire Departments by consolidating fire agencies and by reorganizing their mode of financing.

As part of the agreements, the Board of Overseers is committing $9 million to help unify and improve fire protection and emergency response services provided by independent fire agencies in unincorporated areas. in a county corporation.

“We put our money where our mouths are. While we will continue to look at a sales tax and other options to fund fire services in the future, this is a commitment from our existing budget to build on our mandate for a resilient increased,” said Supervisor James Gore, chairman of the Sonoma County Board. Supervisors. “These funds will help defend the north and east flanks from fires caused by the Diablo wind, improve emergency responsiveness from the coast to Highway 101, strengthen services and coordination in the south of the county and stabilize delivery in the east. The world demands this action, and we are rising to the challenge.

As a result of these actions, there will be 23 local fire agencies in Sonoma County, up from 43 that served the county and its cities in 2014, when the county launched its initiative to unify and improve services. of fire.

While local fire districts are independently funded and not part of the county government, the Board of Supervisors entered into negotiations with these districts and invested money to create an integrated system of response services in case of fire and emergency for the benefit of these communities, visitors and the county. in general.

“It’s not technically our legal responsibility, but it’s our moral responsibility,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, a member of the board committee created to lead a restructuring of local fire departments. “This represents a generational shift in the way these services are provided in Sonoma County, improving fire protection and ensuring the long-term sustainability of fire departments in unincorporated areas of the county.”

Despite these crucial gains, council members recognized that additional funding was needed to adequately support a countywide emergency response system that includes both fire protection and prevention. . A new poll released by the county today found that 75% of voters think having high-quality fire protection services is crucial, even if it means raising taxes. The poll found 64% of voters would support a half-cent sales tax increase to fund fire departments, just short of the two-thirds majority required to approve a tax increase. . The web and telephone survey of 500 likely Sonoma County voters was conducted Dec. 1-8 by EMC Research.

The county will continue to bring stakeholders together for ongoing collaboration and education on unmet needs and discuss how best to fund fire protection and prevention in the future.

A key part of the plan will create the framework for sustainable fire and emergency services along Sonoma County’s coast, which attracts millions of visitors from across the county and around the world each year. About 29% of land in the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District is dedicated to state and county parks, which generate no property tax revenue, creating a funding challenge that threatened the district’s ability to serve residents. visitors and coastal residents.

“The coast is one of the crown jewels of Sonoma County. This plan benefits everyone who lives along our coast and everyone who visits it, providing crucial support to a fire district that provides essential services to people across Sonoma County,” said the supervisor Lynda Hopkins, a member of the board committee created to lead a restructuring of local fire departments.

The county’s concerted effort to ensure the stability of independent fire departments in unincorporated areas of Sonoma County dates back to 2014, when the Board of Supervisors first launched the Fire Department Project for to provide more efficient, effective and sustainable fire services.

After the 2017 fires, the Sonoma County Fire Chiefs Association analyzed deployment and response times to identify weak links and unmet needs. The analysis revealed benefits to consolidating volunteer fire departments and realigning responsibility for serving the territory of County Service Area (CSA) 40, which was established in 1993 to provide fire protection services. structural fires in unincorporated areas of Sonoma County that were not in a fire protection district, Community Services District or municipality.

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