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Calaveras Fire Districts Look For New Revenue

A pair of Calaveras County fire districts are pursuing two different avenues to establish new income for vital services.

The Ebbetts Pass Fire District, which covers Highway 4 from just east of Murphys to the Alpine County line, is in the midst of a mail-in election to establish a new annual assessment of $89 for improved parcels and $26 for unimproved lots.

The revenue would be used to support a second ambulance crew in the Ebbetts Pass area.

Meanwhile, the Foothill Fire District, which serves Valley Springs, Wallace, and the New Hogan Reservoir area, is reviewing various options for augmenting its meager budget.

While the Foothill Board of Directors was recently considering instituting a call-for-service policy, charging out-of-town residents for emergency work such as vehicle accidents or medical help, Director Sam Hoffman said a scheduled public hearing on that proposal has been canceled, and they are reviewing other options.

Foothill Fire District set service fees about a year ago, but later eliminated them when costs of administering and collecting the fees nearly equaled the added revenue.

One possible alternative is an impact fee.

Acting Fire Chief Brian Chavez-Ochoa pointed out that many of their calls come from New Hogan and Camanche reservoirs.

“A majority are for people who do not live within the district,” Chavez-Ochoa said.

Hoffman said the board has thought about approaching the East Bay Municipal Utility District, owner and operator of Camanche Reservoir, about instituting a surcharge on people entering the lake´s recreational area.

That fee would be used to offset fire district costs.

Options for generating more revenue will be discussed at Foothill´s next board meeting, 7 p.m. Tuesday at Valley Springs Elementary School.

“Our intention isn´t to encumber the residents of the district with an abundance of fees,” Hoffman said. “But we do want to be able to provide a service that´s a quality service and not get caught short doing it or run ourselves out of business.”

The district was formed about four years ago, and it´s budget has increased only $5,000 to $10,000 since that time, Hoffman said.

This year´s budget is about $101,000, and that has to cover training for about 15 volunteers, maintain the equipment, and pay for the vehicles´ fuel.

District officials are still waiting to see if any state cuts are looming that might reduce their 2004-05 fiscal year budget, Hoffman said.

He added he hopes residents will show up to discuss the situation at Tuesday night´s meeting, adding the board sees only the same two or three people every month.

“We don´t get much of a turnout,” Hoffman said.

In the Ebbetts Pass Fire District, ballots went out May 24 for the property assessment election.

Residents will actually consider two proposals, Measure A and Measure B.

Measure A establishes the assessment and requires a two-thirds majority. Measure B gives district officials permission to spend the new revenue and requires a simple majority.

Ballots are due back at the county Elections Office in San Andreas by 8 p.m. June 22, and will be counted that night, elections coordinator Debbie Smith said.

Fire Chief Warren Wilkes has been giving presentations to various organizations such as Sons In Retirement, the Greater Arnold Business Association, and gatherings of homeowners.

The firefighters union has augmented that effort by distributing 500 yard signs and mailing an information sheet to every registered voter in the district.

“So far, the response has been positive,” Wilkes said.

He has received a few calls from people with questions about the assessment “but none of them seemed upset about it,” Wilkes said.

The assessment will generate about $775,000 and will be used to equip and staff an ambulance and a fire engine at the district´s fire station in Hathaway Pines.

Wilkes emphasized that the new station, while located at the western end of the district, will benefit all its residents.

The other ambulance company in the district, American Medical Response, is pulling its vehicle out of Arnold June 11, Wilkes said.

A second ambulance and base of operations for the district is needed to make up for that shortfall.

“There´s significant potential for delay if you only have a one-car system,” Wilkes said.

District personnel will try to staff a second ambulance with off-duty crews following the departure of AMR.

“But we can´t do that indefinitely,” Wilkes said.

If the fee is passed, property owners would not face any personal costs for ambulance service. The district would take only what their insurance or Medicare paid.

Visitors from out of the district would have to make up the difference on a ride that can cost $1,200 to $1,400.

The district also would not charge local property owners for what are called “dry runs” when an ambulance is called to the scene, but the person doesn´t use it.

Some ambulance companies charge $500 for that, Wilkes said.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Craig Koscho. For more Calaveras news, click: calaverasenterprise.com