He said the fire agreements only involve service area 5 and 5a, which is Sierra Brooks, south half of Loyalton, Sierra Pacific property, Loyalton mobile home park and senior center apartments. Beals said the question was what do we do with those lands not in a protection district, like Loyalton pines, north of highway 49, and some valley ranches, which are in service area 4. Beals concluded this was why they are looking at what are the pros and cons are of forming a fire district for the east side of the county.
Beals introduced Rick Maddalena who is one of the five commissioners on the Sierra County Fire Protection District. He said when Verdi fire volunteers started disappearing they jumped in to try to create something. Maddalena stressed they want to be invited, adding this was not a hostile takeover. He said they need a means to provide service and new regulations are more burdensome on how agreements have to be done through LAFCO. The Sierra County Fire Protection District put together a “road show” and met with the Board of Supervisors three times and had two meetings in Verdi and a meeting in Long Valley also maintaining communications with Truckee Meadows Fire. What Maddalena found positive, was the opportunity to enhance their relationship with Loyalton Fire. He stated Loyalton Fire responds outside their district to help and takes no tax revenue from these areas, adding it didn’t seem right those services aren’t paid for in some regard. Maddalena said the general plan of action if they did annex the east side was to use Truckee Meadows Fire. They would see a special assessment district around Verdi to pay for Truckee Meadows Fire services. He would like to see Sierra County Fire Protection District contract with Loyalton Fire annually similarly to what they did with Verdi Volunteer Fire for years.
There were several questions from the audience centered on taxes going up. From the Sierra County Fire Protection District, Bill Copren, stated they can’t raise property taxes without a vote of a people. He said the hope is to increase the quality of fire protection and the intention is to have all who are receiving quality fire protection paying for it. He added that presently the way the system is set up, not one penny is going to fire protection in some areas.
From the audience, rancher, Dave Goicoechea stated he has benefitted from the USFS and fire department and he hasn’t been paying. He said he has made contributions from time to time to help and has no objection to be annexed into a fire district. Goicoechea felt a property tax percentage should go to the fire system.
Loyalton Fire Chief Shawn Heywood felt this was a “double edged sword,” if they see this go forward. Supervisor Paul Roen said services could not be reduced. They have to be matched or increased. Heywood wanted to let the audience know that Loyalton Fire will continue to respond to areas outside of their area, regardless of what happens.
City of Loyalton attorney, Steve Gross, asked if there was another way to “skin a cat” and encouraged them to look at different options. Beals said one option was to approve the agreements and deal with the questions when they come up. Gross mentioned creating a fire district completely separate from Sierraville. Supervisor Scott Schlefstein wanted to pursue a Loyalton Fire District.
From Loyalton Fire, John Evans asked if it was possible to have a fire services agreement for service areas 3 and 4, similar to what is being done in service area 5 and 5a. Beals said to extend services to Loyalton Pines, there would have to be a LAFCO agreement, which would require an establishment of a district or annexing to a district.
Audience member, Barbara Leffingwell, of Sierra Brooks stated she was happy with the contract and happy with service and hadn’t seen anything yet that would make her want to join a fire district. She said the LAFCO process takes a long time, and the renewal of the fire agreement would need to be approved by July 1. Leffingwell asked what happens if this process falls apart. County Counsel said contracts don’t expire, adding it would take action of the board to cancel the contract. Supervisor Lee Adams stated it was not the board’s intent to leave anybody high and dry.
Supervisor Roen asked if they could start the process to create special districts for Verdi and one in Long Valley. Beals, said yes, it would be direction to staff to place it on the next agenda. Board Chair Peter Huebner asked Sierra County Clerk Recorder Heather Foster to place it on the next agenda. Regarding the rest of the east side of the County, Supervisor Adams made the recommendation to continue discussion for the rest of the year and keep the present agreement the same in the mean time.
If Sierra County Fire Protection District is successful, the assessment would pass from the county to the fire district and then the county would be completely removed from negotiations and contracting responsibilities, which Beals said was the ultimate goal. Adams but wanted to let the audience know they will have til the end of the year to discuss this. He stated there was also a committee to deal with this issue and hoped the committee would start meeting on a regular basis.
Beals said Sierra County Fire Protection District has the independent authority to proceed with an annexation with or without the consent of the board or anybody, adding, they are an independent special district. He assumed that down the line they would eventually propose an application to LAFCO for annexation. Beals stated there needs a priority given to this issue and what the options are. Adams said they need to get to the end of the year and have some movement with clear direction. He will be pushing for the county to extricate itself.