Valley Voices: Economics of fire district, taxpayers clashing (August 29, 2016)

As a mother of a paid call firefighter and also a volunteer firefighter, I appreciate the front line workers. Realize many are paid only when responding, with low wages and no benefits. Attending my HOA two weeks ago we were stunned current Fire Board Member Tinsley, lacked interest in constituent feedback after the scare and intimidation fire tax pitch. Mr. Tinsley kept trying to shut down my right to speak, to block my statements, inquiries and suggestions from others and kept dodging another person’s request to clarify what they meant by the tax would only cost $4.99 a month. However, my neighbors want to hear so I share with all here.

I find it distasteful, because of my high regard for firefighters, that economics of the fire district and taxpayers were clashing, but reality for fixed income seniors and young families, was a matter of affordability. To continue the existing tax, and add an additional $60.00 a year with a 2% increase annually, must be closely looked at with the other taxpayer obligations coming, both from the Fire District and Town of Apple Valley.

Fire district wages pale compared to the Town employees, but continuing increased retirement costs are fiscally unsustainable. Former Fire Chief Art Bishop, currently on the town council, draws in retirement 89% of his fire district base salary listed at time of retirement, and he made the top six figure Calpers retirements list by receiving $175,119.45 a year, increasing annually.

July 2016 Calpers lost another $30 Billion in investment returns, and those losses are guaranteed for Calpers members, 6% annually, paid by the taxpayers. Presently fire district lists June 30, 2015 Net Pension Liability $8,156,393. Town on July 1, 2015, shows Net Pension Liability $8,335,481. Town obviously misstated that figure, which should be far more given the higher wages, and more employees. It begs the question, why these are not discussed in the budgetary process, nor reported correctly? We also wondered why two paid town employees were also in attendance at the same meeting. Apparently this is the town’s support for the fire district’s tax PR effort, of course at the expense of the taxpaying public.

Private retirements, 401(k)’s and union retirement trusts are losing investment returns with no such guarantee, with low retirement payouts and extended retirement ages, so it is time for government to stop taxing and look for solutions. My suggestions were:

  1. Private partnerships to take advantage of grants not available to public agencies. Fire district shows zero grant revenue.
  2. Other fire districts in California are implementing fees for service. International Fire Chiefs Association reports fees are already built into insurance reimbursements on at fault parties for traffic collisions. Medical aid services are covered by Medicare and Medical. Therefore, those never, or rarely, using fire district services are not taxed for those costs. Agencies already implementing fees reported concerns people would not seek services when needed, show there were no declines in calls for service. This would also make all the normal property tax revenue to the fire district available for the fire support services that serve the benefit of everyone.

I wondered why the indifference from the fire district, and then realized fire taxes go in to the general fund and used for any purpose, while service fees must go back to fund service calls. I also remember Mr. Tinsley, on the town planning commission, who in 2013, with two fire stations already closed, approving the general plan housing element listing the addition of an eighth fire station in the sparsely populated north end of town, as did Town council with Mr. Bishop.

Taxpayers have no guarantee the fire stations will not close again in the future even with the added tax, as we already experienced.

— Leane Lee, Apple Valley, CA