Truckee Fire officials assessing decades-old law to solve $230K shortfall
October 5, 2011
TRUCKEE, Calif. andamp;#8212; Asking certain parcel holders who have not been paying for fire and emergency service from the Truckee Fire Protection District to agree to a special tax is among a few options officials are weighing in an effort to solve a budget shortfall that has led to two layoffs this year.Martis Camp, Timlick, Lahontan, the Truckee airport business park, Donner Summit and developments spread out between Sierra Meadows and Ponderosa Palisades are among a group of neighborhoods dubbed andamp;#8220;Tax Revenue Areasandamp;#8221; not paying for Truckee Fire services through Placer Countyandamp;#8217;s assessed property taxes, said Interim Fire Chief Bob Bena at the fire boardandamp;#8217;s September meeting.andamp;#8220;This is an issue weandamp;#8217;ve been working on since late winter and early spring,andamp;#8221; Bena said. andamp;#8220;Weandamp;#8217;ve actually known about it for awhile but didnandamp;#8217;t do anything yet as far as investigating the actual TRA areas.andamp;#8221;Prioritizing this issue is crucial, Bena said, considering the district faces a $233,000 budget shortfall for the current year based on property tax revenues continuing to decrease due to lower assessed home values, in wake of ongoing economic struggles in the Truckee/ Tahoe region.The district already has laid off two temporary firefighters and is cutting back andamp;#8212; and holding off altogether andamp;#8212; various construction, preventative and maintenance projects, Bena said, to make up for the deficit.
When Californiaandamp;#8217;s Proposition 13 was passed in 1978, it limited local governments andamp;#8212; which previously had independent power to set tax rates andamp;#8212; to 1 percent of a propertyandamp;#8217;s assessed values within a county, according to a memorandum from attorney Michael Coluntano, who the district has called on to assist in the matter. After the propositionandamp;#8217;s passage, Californiaandamp;#8217;s county and the state governments were then forced to divide that 1 percent between themselves.That 1 percent cap, Bena said, essentially froze all increases or adjustments to property tax revenues for Truckee Fire. This has become especially important within the districtandamp;#8217;s TRAs, considering Truckee Fire did not impose a levy on them prior to Proposition 13, Bena said, in an effort to allow property owners opportunity to develop the areas without taxation.During the September meeting, Bena and directors said they intend to present their case before the Placer County Board of Supervisors, to perhaps secure a portion of the countyandamp;#8217;s collected property tax revenues or receive guidance how to move forward.However, Assistant County Executive Holly Heinzen and Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery have recently communicated to the board the roughly 18 percent of property tax revenues received since 1978 by the county from Truckeeandamp;#8217;s uncollected TRAs is already being distributed to county services, with the remaining 82 percent divided among other Truckee districts and the state.andamp;#8220;In 1974, Truckee Fire reached an agreement with the then landowner for a zero percent tax rate on land andamp;#8212; there were no structures. Unfortunately for the district, when Proposition 13 was passed by the voters in 1978, that zero percent tax rate became the law,andamp;#8221; said Montgomery via email.In talks with Placer County, Bena said officials empathize with Truckee Fireandamp;#8217;s situation, but can do little to readjust property tax revenues, which would require nothing short of a readjustment to the state law.andamp;#8220;We all agreed it wasnandamp;#8217;t right; if nothing else it was ethically wrong,andamp;#8221; Bena said, referring to providing fire services without compensation, without inferring any blame to Placer County.Montgomery said she will do her best to allow the fire district to present its case before the Placer board; however, the county might be hard pressed to give up property tax revenues for funding already allocated.andamp;#8220;This is not a moral question andamp;#8212; this is a question of law,andamp;#8221; Montgomery said. andamp;#8220;Remember that zero percent of the taxes collected in the Martis Area are designated for the district per Proposition 13, so Placer County is not collecting funds on behalf of the fire district. Consequently, we are not withholding any funds, nor do we expect the district to provide service without payment.andamp;#8221;
At the meeting, three options were presented for pursuit of the property tax revenues:1. Presenting the districtandamp;#8217;s case before the Placer County Board of Supervisors and asking for guidance or financial support.2. Asking residents and land owners in the uncollected TRAs to self-tax themselves.3. Creating correspondence with District 1 State Sen. Ted Gaines to lobby the state legislature to alter Proposition 13 generally, or specifically, for Truckee Fire.A fourth option, to annex certain properties, wonandamp;#8217;t be considered, officials agreed, as it would result in no fire service to residents living in the TRA neighborhoods.andamp;#8220;Weandamp;#8217;ll just kind of have to go step by step and see where we can move it,andamp;#8221; director Gerald Herrick said last week.All three options will be explored, Herrick said, adding that some notable property owners in the Martis Valley have been receptive to an additional fire tax.