If you need to dial 911, you need help right away.
In Bodega Bay, firefighters call 911 – and that should be alarming for anyone visiting the Sonoma Coast.
Bodega Bay firefighters and paramedics handle approximately 750 calls each year for medical emergencies, vehicle collisions, ocean and sea rescues, and ambulance trips to Santa Rosa hospitals.
Yet Bodega Bay Fire Protection District is on the verge of insolvency and may soon be unable to respond to emergency calls, leaving people to wait for help from Occidental or Guerneville or from another remote fire department.
Supervisors in Sonoma County cannot allow this to happen.
This is not a legal requirement – the Fire District is an independent agency – but public safety is the primary responsibility of the government, and many of the people who call 911 are residents of Sonoma County on day trips. a day on the coast. In addition, the county is in the best position to provide interim funding to maintain an emergency service on the coast pending a permanent solution.
The “fix” is to add Bodega Bay to the Sonoma County Fire Protection District, a consolidation favored by both districts.
Before that happens, Bodega Bay firefighters must increase their numbers to the national standard and match the salaries paid in the Sonoma County Fire District. With a structural deficit close to a million dollars a year, Bodega Bay cannot recruit staff or increase salaries. Soon, he also won’t be able to answer all 911 calls without an injection of cash.
This fiscal crisis is not the product of mismanagement or the refusal of residents to pay for emergency services. This is because the $ 524 per year tax paid by residents of the Bodega Bay Fire District is considered the largest plot tax in the state.
Because the district was formed after Proposition 13, it only recovers $ 310,000 of the $ 10 million in property taxes collected within its boundaries, or one-third of the average yield of Sonoma County fire districts. In addition, two-thirds of the district is not on the tax roll. Much of that land is state and county parks and beaches, which rely on Bodega Bay firefighters to handle 911 calls but pay nothing for the service.
Most of California’s coastal “destinations” are served by city or county fire departments with layers of resources. Bodega Bay has an ambulance, and when it heads to a hospital, there is no help nearby.
The fire department has been emptied for years, but its reserves are depleted and employees are fleeing for safer jobs.
In March, West County voters rejected a proposal to increase hotel taxes and split income between schools and the Bodega Bay Fire District. It was a poorly designed proposal that placed too heavy a burden on outsiders and threatened tourism-related businesses already reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
There are better options. For example, the county could divert some of the existing hotel taxes to the fire department, while expanding the business improvement area to backfill the destination tag groups.
The county could add $ 1 to day use fees in coastal parks to subsidize emergency services.
The state should also intervene. He’s been a non-starter elsewhere. Ask the Rancho Adobe Fire District, which answers 911 calls at Sonoma State University. If the state does not provide emergency services in its territory, it should compensate local first-aid agencies.
The consolidation would provide some relief from the Fire District package tax while providing a higher level of service to residents and anyone visiting the coast, tourists and day trippers. But that will only happen if the county responds to the urgent call for help from the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District.
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