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Jeez, I want to respond to all of these posts! But, in the interest of my next constituent meeting, I’ll pick the most important issue.

Reader Howiek’s question about the fire merger is timely. Sounds like he’s well up to speed on the years-long consolidation effort that (most people don’t know this) actually started before the terrible ’03 Firestorms.  

The good news is on May 7, the plan to take the unincorporated area’s scattered network of unevenly funded fire agencies and merge them into a much more cohesive unit leaped forward. The plan is now in place for a single fire agency to provide fire and emergency medical services to over 1.5 million acres, more than half of the entire county. That is historic.

A few agencies opted out of the merger, but even they agreed the status quo isn’t working. No standardized training. Incompatible resources. Inferior communications. All areas grossly lacking during the Cedar Fire. The agencies that balked at the merger are still at the table and can opt in at a later date.

The bad news is the effort hinges on finding funding. Lots of funding.

Reasonable minds can disagree, but going after the growth on the county’s Prop. 172 funds as a steady funding stream is a non-starter. The growth averages about $10.5 million a year. At this moment, the County is already kicking in $8.5 million a year to unincorporated area fire agencies.

That’s in addition to close to $100 million the County has spent on fire and emergency medical services since the Cedar Fire. (Two fire helicopters, a massive communication network upgrade, dead tree removal, resources like trucks, rigs, tenders, the list goes on).  

You can try to convince the Sheriff and the District Attorney that taking their 172 money is a good idea and won’t result in compromised public safety. But, the County probably won’t be contracting with local eagle scouts to fill the gaps patrolling neighborhoods. And the public would need to accept that Sheriff’s deputies might have to switch from guns to cheaper sling shots.  

What we need is a long term steady funding stream that doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul. That’s why I’ve identified the steadiest of funding streams: property taxes. Care to hear more about that? Let me know.

— DIANNE JACOB

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