The El Dorado Hills Fire District will share initial dispatch responsibility for an estimated 60 emergency calls in Latrobe each year with the Latrobe Fire Protection District under the terms of a agrrement that both district boards approved last week. The annual cost to Latrobe is $25,000.
The agreement formalizes and strengthens a role that El Dorado Hills currently provides its fiscally strapped southerly neighbor under the county mutual aid agreement. Ambulance response remains covered by the county Joint Powers Authority, which is outside the agreement.
Latrobe Fire Chief Chris Couper said the agreement’s intent is to “ensure the integrity of the response,” and “make sure everyone is compensated fairly.”
Couper and El Dorado Hills Fire Chief Dave Roberts presented the proposal to a packed Feb. 13 Latrobe Fire Board meeting, then fielded questions from residents concerned that dwindling district revenues would leave their homes and families exposed to fire danger in what could be a frighteningly dry 2012 summer. Roberts reported that the proposal was generally well received.
During the El Dorado Hills board’s February meeting, Roberts and district counsel Mike Cook reviewed minor contract language changes requested by the Latrobe board, mainly the softening of some contract language.
The final agreement asks Latrobe make its “best effort” to maintain its volunteer organization at or above current levels, with a like effort to have a chief officer present at an estimated half dozen major incidents each year. The El Dorado Hills board had no problem with the changes.
The Latrobe board shelved an accompanying $5,000 proposal for administrative services.
El Dorado Hills resident Dick Ross asked his board to ensure that call activity is tracked and reported, noting “for Latrobe to afford this they have to let something go.”
Latrobe Director John Haverty, who helped form the district in 1982, assured the El Dorado Hills board that his volunteer organization will continue to provide initial incident response after hours and on weekends, which leaves the district needing coverage for an estimated five major calls per year, he said.
His board requested the proposal from El Dorado Hills for help during a mid-week daytime shift currently covered by a soon-to-be-restructured paid staff, he added.
Afterward Haverty added that the board wants to maintain a presence at Station 91 on South Shingle Road during the day in support of the two adjacent schools. “It’s a lot of kids in one spot,” he said.
He reflected on the brutal economics that rural fire districts across the county now face, and why outsourcing some of the responsibility makes sense. “Staffing enough firefighters to man an engine company for five calls a year is tough,” Haverty said. “The sad reality is that it’s a lot to pay.”
Haverty refused to call the county’s rural fire district funding, which likely ends in June, “aid to fire.”
“Look at the portion of tax dollars that go to fire service in other districts and then look at what Latrobe gets,” he said. “We’re paying the same amount of taxes, but not getting the dollars back.”
Haverty said Latrobe residents he’s talked to understand, “We’re trying to get the best protection for them with the budget we have.”
Representatives of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District were also at the Latrobe board meeting, pitching a complete annexation. “But we’re not ready for that, at least not now,” said Haverty.
Haverty said he’s gotten “a little heat” from other rural fire officials for agreeing to outsource coverage in the district he helped found. “I tell ’em we have to,” he shrugged.
The die was likely cast when the district formed in 1982 with a meager 6 percent slice of the Proposition 13 mandated 1 percent property tax. By comparison, El Dorado Hills gets 17.5 percent.
Latrobe’s tax and assessment revenue was just $141,840 in 2009, the most recent year the State Controller’s Office reported on special district revenues. Tax revenues have steadily declined since then, said Couper.
Latrobe received $108,000 from the county in fiscal 2011-12, half of the district’s prior aid-to-fire funding. But district officials aren’t counting on anything from the county in 2012-13.
Couper takes no salary as fire chief, reserving sparse district funds for the essentials, including a small group of firefighters paid at intern rates on a midweek daytime shift.
All of Latrobe’s apparatus and equipment will remain owned, operated and maintained by Latrobe staff. The contract invites Latrobe paid and volunteer firefighters to train with El Dorado Hills.
The agreement can terminated with six months notice by either district. The contract went into effect Feb. 20.