Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – The Arcata Fire District will ask voters next year to increase a special tax to help pay for firefighters and prevent one of its stations from closing down. If voters approve the measure, the tax for a typical single-family home would go up $98 a year.
The Arcata Fire District Board of Directors voted unanimously Nov. 20 in favor of a resolution that will put the tax increase before voters on the March 3 ballot, which will also feature a presidential primary. The measure will need to be approved by at least two-thirds of voters to be successful.
The measure would increase a special tax approved by voters in 1997. The existing tax is $5 “per unit of benefit,” with an average single-family home having four units of benefit, bringing the annual tax to $20 a year.
The proposed tax increase would do away with “units of benefit,” and instead have a simplified flat tax depending on the type of property.
A single-family home would be taxed $118 a year, an increase of $98 compared to the current tax. (Tax rates for other property categories can be found at arcatafire.org.)
One of the goals of the tax measure is maintain staffing levels and keep open the district’s three stations: Downtown Arcata at 631 Ninth St., Mad River at 3235 Janes Rd. and McKinleyville at 2149 Central Ave.
The district wants to restore three vacant positions that were funded by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that expired in 2017.
“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,” states a FAQ on the district’s website.
The district has six firefighters and one chief/officer on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They cover Arcata, McKinleyville, Bayside and Manila. They also provide mutual aid to neighboring departments and have assisted with major wildfires throughout the state.
If the tax measure fails in March, the district would close one of its stations, reduce the on-duty personnel from seven down to four, demote three battalion chiefs to captains, demote six captains to firefighters and lay off six firefighters.
If the tax is approved, it would generate an estimated $2.2 million a year. This would keep stations open and basically maintain the status quo in terms of daily staffing.
Filling the three positions previously funded by the FEMA grant will also help reduce some of the personnel over-time .
Fire Chief Justin McDonald told the Board of Directors at last week’s meeting that staffing is so tight, that it’s not unusual for firefighters to have “forced overtime.” If someone calls in sick, firefighters are forced to work additional shifts beyond their regular shifts to ensure that the district is properly covered.
The district tried to pass a funding measure in 2015, but it was rejected by voters.
Battalion Chief Rick Gomes said he’s learned from past measures what the public wants to hear. “Tell us why you need it, tell us what it cost and justify it,” Gomes said.