Fighting for Funding | SierraSun.com

Fighting for Funding

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunA volunteer firefighter tests hoses at Meeks Bay last fall. Meeks Bay Fire District is dependent on volunteers.

The smallest fire department in the Lake Tahoe Basin may lose a quarter of its annual funding by mid-year.

The Meeks Bay Fire Protection District, nestled among the pines on Tahoe’s West Shore, operates on a little over $1 million a year, according to Fire Chief John Pang.

Last week Pang was in discussions with El Dorado County officials to forestall cuts to what he called a “special augmentation” from the county. That augmentation, more than $300,000, constitutes 26 percent of the district’s annual budget, Pang said.

“The county has a budget shortfall just like any [other county in the state],” said Mike Applegarth, senior administrative analyst for the Chief Administrative Office of El Dorado County. “And in order to get our hands around that, the board of supervisors have asked the chief administrative officer, Laura Gill, to identify where we can see some reductions and see some budget savings.”

The cut that Pang was driving miles to prevent is just, “the beginning of the conversation,” Applegarth said, pointing out the proposed budget saving measure is just one in a laundry list being considered by the county supervisors and staff. Applegarth emphasized the reduction in county funds is not imminent.

The supervisors looked at cutting the “fire aid” last year, because of lost revenue from the housing slump, but ultimately did not, Applegarth said. The supervisors will discuss the list of cuts with staff during a board meeting on Feb. 12, Applegarth said.

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If the reduction is approved, cuts could be made as early as July 1.

In addition to the county aid, the Meeks Bay district depends on donations and grants for equipment and funding, Pang said.

In 1998 the district passed a special tax assessing property owners $45 annually. The tax was to help “maintain the status quo,” Pang said. “Back then we were the lowest funded of the Basin districts.”

Now in its tenth year, the tax has exceeded expectations as to how long it could help the district.

“We told the public that we would be coming back to ask for more money, [but] we’ve exceeded the five years [expected]. We have been conservative in spending and received a lot of grants,” said fire district board president Ed Miller.

But, Miller warned, “if we lose any augmentation from the county we are living with the possibility of another election.”

The only other fire district near Lake Tahoe that could be affected by a cut in the fire aid funding would be Fallen Leaf Fire Department, Applegarth said.