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Fire Merger Presented In Oakdale Forum
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Local residents, including those from Knights Ferry and Valley Home, gathered at the Gene Bianchi Community Center on Monday night, Oct. 28, to hear a presentation at a special Oakdale City Council meeting regarding the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District absorbing the City of Oakdale Fire Department and Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District. In addition to council members, board members from both fire protection districts were on hand.

Cathy Dominico, of Capitol Public Finance Group of Roseville, presented the $26,000 study commissioned by the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District.

“The study was done on the premise of financial analysis only,” said Dominico. “It was looked upon for Stanislaus Consolidated to remain whole and protected.”

The proposed merger would have Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection taking over fire protection and emergency medical services for the area, absorbing buildings, equipment, apparatus, and existing personnel from the other two departments, making it an 83-member strong agency for eastern and central Stanislaus County.

Ownership and debt absorption of the Willowood Drive fire station $2.85 million bond payment would still have to be worked out between the city and district. Both agencies would keep their unfunded liability charges of employees such as time-off cashouts and retirement costs that were incurred prior to the merger.

Under the plan, property owners of the Oakdale Rural jurisdiction would have their Measure M assessment replaced with the Stanislaus Consolidated assessment rates to cover fire protection costs.

Under one of the proposals for the city inclusion, Oakdale would have to agree to a property tax percentage sharing or have parcels assessed with the Stanislaus Consolidated rate which includes $261 for residential properties.

“You may have to look at what a community can bear and take into consideration what they are already paying,” said Dominico.

Oakdale residents already have Yosemite Community College District, Oakdale Joint Unified School District, and Oak Valley Hospital special property tax charges with some areas also having Lighting, Landscape and Maintenance District assessments on top of their annual tax bill.

During discussions, Councilman Farrell Jackson compared the assessment charges to Obama Care.

“A select group of people are funding this,” Jackson said, pointing out that commercial and industrial properties would have a large amount due on top of other taxes. “When a partnership or consolidation occurs between entities, it needs to be fair and equitable.”

Jackson added that he wasn’t willing to support an additional tax burden to property owners.

“When you’re making a decision this big, you should have the community’s trust,” said former mayor Pat Kuhn, faulting the city because she believed there was little notice given for the meeting. “It sounds like the train has already left the station and a decision’s been made.”

Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said that the assessment was only “one option” and other discussions would occur to keep tax burdens the same.

Oakdale resident Mike Eggener stated he was concerned about “bringing other entity fingers into our tax stream,” especially at a time when the city was looking at a new general plan with new development.

“Determine what level of fire protection the community is comfortable with,” Eggener said. “Slow it down and look at things first.”

Former Oakdale Fire Chief Mike Botto complimented city and district board officials on the exploration of the merger adding that it has been a discussed process for the last five years.

“Where’s the best place to be to be able to provide fire protection and life support services?” Botto asked those gathered to consider. “Oakdale can’t do it on our own. We need to partner up and expand.”

Councilman Tom Dunlop announced there would be more discussion on the topic, most likely at the Nov. 4 Oakdale City Council meeting.

If the annexation of service areas were to go through, a decision would have to be forwarded to the county assessor’s office by January 2014 to realign boundaries for property tax purposes.