Fire board facing down shortfall

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By SUNNY LOCKWOOD

The Murphys Fire Protection District Board of Directors is trying to regroup after the recent defeat of a tax measure meant to bolster the district's budget.

Measure A, which would have established an annual assessment of $75 per improved parcel and $25 per unimproved parcel on June 3 fell short of the two-thirds majority required for passage.

Now the district may look to bingo games and bake sales to help fill the funding gap.

Though there was good-natured ribbing at Wednesday night's meeting, disappointment over the election was obvious.

Ray Behrbaum, who had worked on behalf of Measure A for more than a year as part of a citizens committee, addressed the board.

"We got more votes than the opposition but we didn't get enough to win and it hurts because the district needs the money," he said. "I'm sorry it didn't pass."

He wasn't the only one.

"We all are" District Director Bill Wakefield said. "Now we won't be able to do the things we want to."

The board had hoped to raise about $115,000 a year from the tax to hire two emergency medical technicians/fire fighters to staff the fire station during hours when volunteers are least available.

Directors had also hoped to buy a medical-assistance vehicle, because about 70 percent of the district's calls are for medical assistance.

At this week's meeting, directors discussed possibilities for raising funds, including bingo games, bake sales and charging service fees.

Director Bob Costa reminded board members that they passed an ordinance earlier this year to charge for services, but Director Helen Behrbaum said she didn't want to institute the charges.

"I don't feel good about it," she said.

Costa suggested seeking grants.

"We know we've got to do something," he said.

After much discussion, the board asked fire Chief Bob Pereira to explore alternatives for generating revenue.

The measure's failure won't kill the district, but it makes things harder, officials said.

"The district will continue, but we won''t be able to grow to meet the needs of our community," Costa said.

"It means longer response times," Pereira said. "If we had two paid people here at the station, response time could be (significantly quicker). But when you have volunteers who have to leave their jobs, come to the station, get the equipment and then head out, it takes a lot longer to respond."

Director Vickie Mills, who is the board treasurer, said the consequences of the election will become more evident as time passes.

"People will notice more of the old equipment disappearing. If we run out of equipment, there will be fewer volunteers responding. Maybe we'll have to eventually downsize staff."

Board members talked about taking another run at a fire tax in the future, but for now, they're simply planning ways to continue serving the community.

Contact Sunny Lockwood at slockwood@uniondemocrat.com .

11505268
The Union Democrat
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