Sonoma County Authorizes $9 Million To Advance Fire Department Consolidations, Affecting Bodega Bay, 9 Volunteer Companies

The Sonoma County Fire District’s consolidation efforts reached a major milestone on Tuesday when the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a series of tax swap and revenue-sharing agreements and committed $9 million. dollars to support streamlined fire departments over a wide swath of the unincorporated area.

The board vote advanced mergers affecting three broad areas: along the coast, from Bodega Bay to Fort Ross; further inland along a corridor extending from Lakeville in the south to Camp Meeker west of Guerneville; and on the north end of the county near The Geysers and Dry Creek Valley.

The series of moves will further reduce the number of districts covering Sonoma County and its cities to 23, from 43 in 2014 when the county began pursuing consolidation.

“It’s important,” supervisor David Rabbitt said. “I’m so happy that we were able to get him across the finish line today.”

The council’s action on Tuesday is one of the most significant in its eight-year effort to overhaul a highly decentralized network of firefighters that dates back a century or more, to a time when the county was predominantly rural and largely covered by voluntary and independent enterprises. districts.

Outside the cities, many have struggled to cope with rising equipment and labor costs, tougher training standards and, increasingly, the demands of a winter season. more volatile year-round wildfire that has repeatedly hit Sonoma County with catastrophic fires over the past five years.

Tuesday’s approval by the Board of Supervisors includes these consolidation efforts: the Sonoma County Fire District taking over the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District; The North Sonoma County Fire Protection District supports The Geysers and Dry Creek/Sotoyome areas; and the Gold Ridge Fire Protection District annexing volunteer fire companies at Fort Ross, Camp Meeker, Bloomfield, Bodega, Valley Ford, Two Rock, San Antonio, Wilmar, and Lakeville.

“It’s been thousands of hours of work and a real labor of love,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who along with Rabbitt and Supervisor James Gore represents districts with a slew of affected agencies. “It is not a legal responsibility but it is a moral responsibility.”

Each consolidation is at a different stage and will ultimately require approval from the county’s Local Agencies Formation Board, which governs the boundaries of tax-funded public entities.

Gold Ridge’s planned expansion encompasses most of the county’s remaining voluntary businesses. In 2014, there were 15.

The financially-struggling Bodega Bay Fire Agency attempted to gain LAFCO approval about 2.5 years ago, but the effort was delayed due to a lack of funding. The effort will restart now that the oversight board has approved seed funding. The consolidation could be finalized by July 1 if all goes as planned.

“This means we will all have completed the formal process and Bodega Bay will be another Sonoma County Fire District station,” Bodega Bay Fire Protection District Assistant Fire Chief Steve Herzberg said. . “We will be one agency, not two. We will be properly staffed and we will be a whole consisting of a board of directors and a command structure.

That merger alone lasted about seven years, and representatives from Bodega Bay and the fast-growing Sonoma County Fire District approved the terms in July.

The Sonoma County Fire District will now stretch from Bodega Bay along the Lower Russian River to Windsor, forming a horseshoe around Santa Rosa, incorporating what was once Central Fire and Rincon Valley Fire.

The Sonoma County Fire District’s annual budget is $23.6 million, and the department has 26 full-time firefighters, 14 of whom are also paramedics, according to the district’s website.

Bodega Bay currently has 12 full-time firefighters and paramedics, but that number is expected to increase to 15 once consolidation is complete. This will allow five crew members per shift; two by ambulance and three by fire engine.

Wildfires are rare along the coast and supporters of consolidation have pointed out that the Bodega Bay crew mainly handle emergency calls involving tourists.

“At Bodega Bay, depending on how you count it, well over 85% of our calls are medical or rescue,” Herzberg said.

Bodega Bay has been strapped for years and turned to the Measure B Transitional Occupancy Tax increase proposed last year for help. He reportedly raises about $2.7 million a year for the fire department, as well as for struggling schools in West County.

Voters rejected the measure in March 2021 and it resulted in the departure of four firefighters.

Following the failure of Measure B, the county brought in consultants to study whether voters would support a future fire tax. On Tuesday, these consultants advised the council not to implement a fire tax this year, as their poll found voter support fell just short of the two-thirds threshold needed to pass.

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