Residents within the 324-square mile rural jurisdiction of the Oakdale Fire Protection District (District) will need to decide via mail-in ballot by May 5 whether or not they want to support a new tax measure that will keep the district functioning.
Measure Q will replace and repeal the existing Measure M that rural residents pay for fire service, which voters approved in 2005.
The proposed measure would cost residents $380 per dwelling unit annually, with an additional seven cents per square foot. The measure is projected to raise approximately $3,935,000 annually and would also allow for improving response times by operating a second fire station.
According to District board president Gary Hampton, the special fire district is running a $50,000 deficit and expects more of the same in the next two years, putting the district in serious danger of not being able to fulfill reciprocal agreements with neighboring fire agencies.
Currently, the district is running one fire station, one engine and two personnel to cover a large swath of land, running calls that vary from vehicle accidents to medical aid with the Stanislaus River coursing through its jurisdiction.
In the summer months, District personnel often respond to eight to 10 river rescues per month, putting a strain on thin resources.
“You have to have three people on an engine,” Hampton explained. “A two-person engine can arrive on scene but then they have to wait for additional support.”
With one engine traveling from Knights Ferry to Valley Home, the response time can be high, at least 12 to 15 minutes, Hampton said.
Currently, the Oakdale Fire Protection District is in a mutual aid agreement with Modesto Fire Department, which helps with medical calls and other emergencies but that agreement was struck with the understanding that the District would upgrade to the three-person engine crew.
With the writing on the wall, the District board held several community workshops last year to alert residents to the looming crisis facing the district.
“We had to show the residents that there’s 15 years of static revenue and that gap has consumed all the reserves,” Hampton said. “Our revenue isn’t designed to increase. It’s designed to stay static but it doesn’t take into account any inflationary costs.”
Which puts the special fire district in a position where they are unable to shoulder maintenance costs on the aging engine, nor able to staff up to the required three-person engine and definitely doesn’t allow for equipment replacement, Hampton said.
“We’re trying to proactively solve a problem that we know is going to become a real issue in 2023,” he said.
Hampton admits, the district understands the timing couldn’t be worse as people are facing furloughs, bankruptcies and financial chaos as the COVID 19 pandemic continues to put a strangle hold on the economy but there weren’t a lot of workable options.
While no one is excited at the prospect of paying more taxes, the general consensus in the room at the community workshops seemed understanding of the dilemma, Hampton said, adding he’s spent hours on the phone answering questions from concerned residents.
Many residents were unaware that the county wasn’t responsible for their fire service.
The County Board of Supervisors has no legal responsibility to provide funding or assume responsibility for fire districts — placing the burden of fire safety squarely on the shoulders of district residents.
The special district also doesn’t receive sales tax funds from Oakdale City.
Residents have already seen their ballots arrive for this all-mail special election. Ballots should be returned to the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters by May 5; there is a prepaid envelope included. For more information, contact the Registrar of Voters at 209-525-5201.