Consults with Loyalton Neighbors
On Friday evening September 30th, approximately 30 property owners from ranches and subdivisions at the outskirt of Loyalton met with representatives of the Sierra County Fire Protection District #1 (SCFPD#1) to exchange thoughts about possible annexation of area not currently serviced by a fire organization.
Fire Commissioner Bill Copren provided a background about why these areas are not served (having dropped out of the SCFPD#1 in the late 1960’s for “tax reason” that were made mute by passage of Proposition 13 in the late 1970’s). Copren also provided insight as to how the post Proposition 13 property tax structure would be honored by an annexation.
“We are operating under a belief that all properties in the County deserve fire and emergency medical service. We also believe that all volunteer fire fighters should be assured that they will be covered by worker’s compensation should something go wrong. And, we believe we (SCFPD #1) might be in a position to provide those services through agreements with other Fire Agencies,” stated Copren.
The areas under consideration include: Verdi CA, Long Valley, and the areas around Loyalton that are not already covered via contacts between the City and the County. Sierra Brooks, and the agriculture land and the Mill Site north of Sierra Brooks, and the Moble Home Park are already protected via contracts with Loyalton Fire Department. If annexation does become a reality, protection for Verdi and Longvalley would be provided through agreements between the SCFPD #1 and Truckee Meadows Fire District out of Nevada. Protection for the areas near Loyalton would be provided through agreements with Loyalton Fire Department.
Commissioner Rick Maddalena supported Copren’s presentation by providing some background about the roles of Calfire, the US Forest Service and the significance of the “State Responsibility Area” (SRA). Annexation within the SRA would only relate to Structure Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services. Outside the SRA, the responsibilities would also involve wildland responsibilities.
Attending the meeting were representatives of Loyalton City Council (Earnie Teague), Loyalton Fire Department (Robert DeMartini and Jon Pang), County Commissioner Peter Hubner, and County Planning/ Local Agency Formulation Commission (LAFCO) Director Tim Beals.
This was the 6th public presentation by Copren and Maddalena seeking public input on the annexation thought process. A 7th meeting with Sierra County property owners in Longvalley is in the planning stages.
ANNEXATION QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
Q -1 Will the property owners involved with this annexation pay more for services?
A-1 Property owners with properties in the Verdi Area and the Long Valley special assessment areas will be expected to pay for the services rendered by Truckee MeMeadow FPD. These cost are unknown at this time but will be close to the rates paid by property owners in the unincorporated portions of Washoe County for structure protection and emergency medical service. Those outside these state line areas will actually pay less then currently since their Cal Fire fee will decline to match that of properties within a fire district.
Q-2 Will mitigation fees be assessed on new construction in the newly annexed areas?
A-2 Yes. Sierra County collects a mitigation fee from the construction of new homes, attached garages and new commercial and industrial structures that expand the fire exposure for the district. The rate is a minimal rate of $1.25 per square foot. The money can only be used to pay for equipment and capital improvements and must be expended within 5 years of collection. The mitigation fee is intended to have new construction reimburse a proportional cost of the equipment and facilities paid for at the time of the new construction by the existing rate payers.
Q-3 What share of the existing property taxes will be routed to the District upon annexation.
A-4 The final share will be determined by LAFCO. The District expects that the share will be similar to the average share, about 7% of the 1% for tax rate areas that are currently in the District. The amount might be higher in the areas not served by other special districts. For example, the Verdi area is not included within the hospital district or the fire district. This could result in the fire district receiving a slightly higher percentage of the property taxes in that area. These funds would then go to off-set the amount of the assessment fee for these state line areas.
Q-4 Will the District be developing new facilities in the newly annexed area?
A-4 That depends. If this is the best option to provide fire protection and the demographics and the funding fits then this would be an option. This would all depend on site-specific capabilities.
Q-5 What are the options for the various areas?
Verdi (both the portion within the District and the portions that are North of the District) could establish their own Fire District or Assessment area. That body would likely provide service through a contract with Truckee Meadows FPD. The SCFPD#1 would need to “de-annex” that part of the community that is in the District for this to be reasonable. The costs to the district would approximate the costs of annexing the areas outside the district.
The residents of Long Valley could also form their own fire district and enter into an agreement with Truckee Meadows. This could be in concert with Verdi or separately.
The property owners outside the City of Loyalton that are not covered by an existing contract for service from the City have the same options as Verdi. The areas covered by the contracts with the City could withdraw from the contracts and join their “non-City” neighbors.
Q-6 Who is the decision maker for these annexation possibilities?
A-6 The Decision to allow and annexation or creations of a new District rest with th Local Agency Formulation Commission (LAFCO). LAFCO also will approve the negotiated tax structure necessary to support fire protection in the newly served areas.
Q-7 Who pays for the LAFCO effort?
A-7 The party requesting a decision from LAFCO will need to pay for the cost of assembling LAFCO and the studies that LAFCO may require. There may be contributions from the Title 3 funds if justified.
Q-8 Can the SCFPD #1 (or a new District) contract with the City of Loyalton for service to areas close to Loyalton, e.g. Loyalton Pines?
A-8 Maybe but that answer rests with interpretation of SB 239 which became law in November 2015 and amends the Government Code starting at 56134. This new law places higher restrictions on Cities wishing to contract service outside of their jurisdictional area. LAFCO must now review those contracts. However, SCFPD#1 presently has a mutual aid agreement with the City which would allow City fire to fight fire within the new district boundaries. This would work as a stop-gap and provide a minimum of service capabilities to the annexed areas. However, more effort is needed to make the City whole when it responds outside the city limits.
Q-9 Is there a “bottom line” for the SCFPD#1 to complete the annexation?
A-9 There appears to be few if any financial reasons for annexation and that has never been the motive of the District. Three things must happen for the District to want to pursue annexation.
- The property owners of the area to be annexed must want to be included in the District. This “public will” can be sensed through public meetings before the district commission and before LAFCO. A public vote may be necessary to establish new special assessment areas (as is being considered for the Verdi and Long Valley areas).
- There must be a means of providing the desired service such as contracts for service with Truckee Meadow FPD (for Verdi CA and Long Valley) and through the Loyalton City FD for those areas where Loyalton is the obvious first responder.
- The financial burden of providing service must be at least “neutral” to the existing rate payers of the District.