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Tax Measure Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of the proposed tax?

The tax will;

  • Maintain existing staff levels to ensure rapid emergency fire and medical responses out of the three fire stations, McKinleyville, Mad River, and Arcata.

  • Restore the three vacant positions that were funded through a grant for a period of time and ensure required funding for the current full-time firefighter positions.

  • Repair and replace aging firefighting equipment as required.

  • Ensure the District’s career and volunteer firefighters have the required training and personal protective equipment as mandated by regulations.

The District has operated in a deficit for the last three years and 2019 will be the last year we can sustain the current level of service and keep three fire stations staffed.

What is the Arcata Fire District and how are services it provides funded?

Arcata Fire District (AFD) was formed on June 1, 1944; the AFD is a single-purpose special district, independent from the County of Humboldt and the City of Arcata; governed by a board of directors who are elected directly by the voters.

The Fire District provides critical, emergency life-saving and fire protection services to the communities of McKinleyville, Manila, Bayside, and the City of Arcata. 

 

Presently, the District is funded from four primary sources:

  • 50% from the ad valorem (property tax)

  • 40% from the District's voter-approved initiatives

    • 1997 special tax and

    • 2006 benefit assessment

  • 8% from other government funds

  • 2% from charges for services.

What happened to the Arcata Volunteer Fire Department (AVFD) and what is the difference between the District and the Arcata Volunteer Firefighters Association (AVFA)?

Over the years and with the increased call volumes and personnel qualifications the ability of a volunteer fire department had to change.  As the Arcata Fire District took on a larger role of staffing the three stations with career firefighters the AVFD became a support organization. The AVFD changed its name to the Arcata Volunteer Firefighters’ Association (AVFA) and represent the local volunteers.  The AVFA supports the District as needed with volunteers and through fundraising.

Why does the District need more funding?

It has been over 13 years since the District increased funding.  The District special tax and benefit assessment do not have inflation factors built-in and have remained almost flat.  Beginning in 2012, the District was awarded back to back FEMA grants which allowed AFD to staff a third fire station. The grant funding ran out in 2017 and the District was not successful with acquiring additional grant funding from FEMA.  The AFD Board opted to cut the 2017/18 and 2018/19 budgets in an effort to prevent station closures and layoffs. This direction continued in the passage of the 2019/20 budget.

What has the District done to reduce costs/expenses?

Staffing has been reduced through attrition, 3 firefighter positions were left unfilled (from a high of 21 firefighters to 18), tiered retirement benefits, cut or reduced hours to administrative staff, deferred required equipment maintenance as much as possible. We have enacted a revenue recovery process for fire prevention services and traffic accidents.  However, the District has still operated in a deficit for the last three years and this will be the last year we can sustain the current level of service and keep three fire stations staffed.

What does tiered retirement mean?

The District is not able to change the existing retirement benefits of current retirees and is only allowed to make changes to current and future employee benefits through a negotiation process with the Firefighters Union. Currently, the District has 5 levels of retirement benefits. These levels, or tiers, reduce the benefit for the employee, decrease the cost to the District and increase the contribution from the employee.  It will, however, take several years to show a savings benefit, as newly hired employees are placed into these retirement tiers.

Why did you wait so long to ask for more money?

The District had received two FEMA grants for extra staffing.  By acquiring these grants, it prolonged the need to ask for additional funding from the community. 

In 2015 the District attempted a funding measure that was rejected by the voters due to the District asking for too much and not having a clear plan.  Since then, the Board and staff have been working to revise the funding plan and reevaluate how funding is allocated. 

Would any new revenue just go to pay off pension liabilities?

The short answer is yes. Unfortunately, most California public agencies are struggling with pension liabilities, and the Arcata Fire District is struggling with the challenge as well.  It is important to remember that these obligations were earned by, and promised to, our retirees.  The District must continue to pay what it owes, and several years ago retirement plan reform was enacted, therefore current and new employees now have a different retirement plan and process. 

Does the Fire District receive any funds from the County's Measure Z tax?

Funding from Measure Z is appreciated and has helped AFD over the last three years.  We have received reimbursement for the cost of our dispatch contract with the Cal Fire, 39 sets of firefighter gear, 40 air packs and 80 air bottles, and a mobile training tower.  Additionally, the District has indirectly, benefitted by having Measure Z fund equipment and gear for our mutual aid volunteer fire agencies Blue Lake, Westhaven, Fieldbrook and Samoa.  This funding ensures that those volunteer fire agencies have operational fire engines and appropriate gear to wear when they respond to calls to assist in our fire district. But Measure Z does not fund personnel or personnel associated expenses for the fire service.

Why can’t the District continue to provide service with volunteers like in the past decades?

There are numerous reasons that the ability to manage volunteer service has declined over the past decade; the time commitment, increased call volume (medical and fire response), and mandated training requirements, all impact the ability of volunteer service in terms of both time the volunteer would be required to take off of work and personal time spent away from family.

Nationally the ability for any volunteer fire service to manage the required commitment to medical response or fire call has become challenging. AFD presently has five committed suppression volunteers. According to an August 14, 2016 article in the New Your Time, “There are still more than twice as many volunteers as career firefighters. But the number of volunteers has dropped by around 11 percent since the mid-1980s, while the number of career firefighters has grown more than 50 percent, according to the National Fire Protection Association”.  “The rise in two-income households often means that there is no stay-at-home parent to run things so the other can dash off for an emergency. Urbanization and the aging of the rural population are taking their toll as fewer young people are available to replace firefighters who retire”

Humboldt County and specifically this District is no different.  Since 2006, our call volume has increased 90% and the demand of training required by regulations for a career firefighter has also increased. Volunteers are required to meet the same level of training as a career firefighter, therefore they have difficulty staying current and qualified.

Could you save money if you quit going on medical calls?

No.  The cost of operating the three stations would not decrease. Any fire district is basically an insurance policy for a community.  It must be staffed 24/7/365. Since the number of fires has decreased over the decades, we perform other tasks in order to justify employee costs; medical responses, public education, inspections, public assists.   

How many firefighters are currently on-duty each day?

Each 24 hour day, there are 6 firefighters and 1 chief officer/supervisor on duty. As needed, our off duty career staff are called back on over-time and volunteer firefighters are recalled to assist with incidents.  The District also relies on other fire agencies; Blue Lake, CalFire, Fieldbrook, Humboldt Bay Fire, and Samoa-Peninsula assist with staffing when we have fires in the District.

 
Didn’t you just spend a bunch of money to remodel your fire stations?

Yes, in 2016, the Arcata Fire District and the Arcata Volunteer Firefighters' Association (AVFA) collaborated on a capital improvement construction project to remodel and modernize the Arcata Fire Station and to remodel, modernize and add the District administrative offices to the McKinleyville Fire Station.  The AVFA has ownership of the Arcata station but took on the construction project costs for the needed updates and required seismic retrofits of the both Arcata and McKinleyville Fire Station through grants, donations, and loans as follows:

  • $1,272,398 from the Orvamae Emmerson Endowment.

  • $291,663 from the Arcata Sunrise Rotary Community Foundation.

  • Lily Lucchesi $250,000

  • $815,759 from other funds raised by AVFA.

 

In addition to the grants and donations, he AVFA took on debt service of $1,890,063 for the capital construction costs to complete the station remodels.

The Fire District rents the Arcata Station from AVFA.  The proceeds from the rent contribute to the AVFA’s debt service from both stations remodels.

Will there be fiscal accountability for this funding?

Yes, comparable to the last funding measure passed for the District in 2006, a Citizen’s Oversight Committee will be used to ensure the funds are spent as promised through the language of the tax measure.  This will be in addition to the District’s legal responsibility to allow an independent auditor to review its funds, annually.  Financial audits for the past five years are public record, are always available upon request and can also be reviewed through our website.

What happens if the District does not pass the tax?
  • The District will be forced to close a Station.

  • The reduction of 7 on-duty personnel to down to 4;

  • The demotion of 3 Battalion Chiefs to Captains;

  • The demotion of 6 Captains to firefighters;   

  • The layoff of 6 Firefighters.

What will the new tax cost me and is this in addition to what I already pay?

This new tax would replace the 1997 special tax and would be in addition to the 2006 Benefit Assessment.  As recommended by a community survey the new tax, if approved, would not have an inflation factor and would expire in 10 years.  Before the end of the 10-year term, the community would again be asked to support another measure to continue the tax.

My question was not in the FAQs.  How can I get it answered?
 

If you would like to know more about the proposed tax measure or have a specific question, please contact us at info@arcatafire.org.