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The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has approved spending $9 million to consolidate and improve fire protection in unincorporated areas of the county.

“These funds will help defend the northern and eastern flanks against Diablo wind-driven fires, enhance emergency responsiveness from the coast to Highway 101, boost services and coordination in south county and stabilize delivery in the east,” Supervisor James Gore said.

The supervisors at their Jan. 25 meeting approved a complex series of tax exchange and revenue sharing agreements to support the consolidation, county spokesperson Ted Appel said.

Supervisors worked with local departments and invested money to create an integrated system of both fire and emergency response services. Local fire districts are independently funded and are not part of county government.

Supervisor David Rabbitt called the consolidation a “moral responsibility” to improve fire protection in unincorporated areas.

Those areas provide a funding challenge because they do not generate property tax revenue, Appel said. Supervisors first launched a Fire Services Project in 2014 to attempt to stabilize the county’s independent fire agencies.

When the 2017 fires hit, the Sonoma County Fire Chiefs Association looked at deployment and response times to identify “weak links and unmet needs,” Appel said. From this study it was determined that consolidating volunteer fire departments and realigning service responsibilities would be beneficial for the county.

Planned annexations

The changes are in “various stages of review” by the Local Agency Formation Commission, but are partially outlined here:

Gold Ridge Fire Protection District: The district will annex seven volunteer fire companies in west and south Sonoma County. In exchange, the district will receive $4.4 million in annual base funding and the revenue generated by the Wilmar Community Facilities District (CFD), which is currently $131,946 per year.

Sonoma County Fire District: The district will annex the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District. In exchange, it will receive $3 million in annual base funding.

Northern Sonoma County Fire District: The district will annex the Dry Creek-Sotoyome Community Facility District territories and three other areas. In exchange, the district will receive $1.2 million in annual base funding, subject to an increase after five years, in addition to the revenue generated by the Sotoyome CFD, which is currently $112,849 per year.

The supervisors also allotted $180,000 in annual base funding for the Kenwood Fire Protection District.

The county will additionally transfer $2 million in property tax funding after the Local Agency Formation Commission completes its annexation process, Appel said. The county will also funnel $7.2 million in Fire Services Project funds into the consolidation. This money comes from the General Fund, Proposition 172, a public safety sales tax initiated in 1993, and the county’s Transient Occupancy Tax on overnight visitors. Supervisors also voted to include camping fees in the TOT, with an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 in projected revenue.