Santa Cruz County
CA

Agenda Item
DOC-2019-849

Consider engineer's report for increased assessment rates for County Service Area (CSA) No. 48, consider Resolution of Intention to Levy Assessment within CSA 48, schedule a public hearing for January 14, 2020, at 9:00 a.m. or thereafter, and take related actions, as outlined in the memorandum of the Director of General Services

Information

Department:General Services DepartmentSponsors:Director Michael Beaton
Category:GSD - Board Letter

Financial Impact

If the Proposition 218 Assessment Ballot passes, the proposed assessment rate would result in an estimated increase of $1,551,118 for fiscal year 2020-21.

Board Letter

Recommended Action(s):

 

1.              Approve the Engineer’s Report for County Service Area 48, County Fire (CSA 48); 

 

2.              Adopt Resolution of Intention to Levy Assessments in CSA 48;

 

3.              Set January 14, 2020 at 9:00 a.m., or thereafter, as the date and time for a public hearing on the proposed assessment;

 

4.              Direct the Clerk of the Board to publish a summary notice of the public hearing once a week for two weeks prior to the hearing in a newspaper of general circulation;

 

5.              Approve the sample ballot and notification for the proposed 2020-21 assessment for CSA 48; and

 

6.              Direct County Fire to mail ballots at least 45 days prior to the public hearing to the record owners of properties subject to the proposed increased assessment.

 

Executive Summary

County Fire seeks approval for a Proposition 218 ballot proceeding for a new assessment that would provide a higher level of fire protection and emergency response service by increasing staffing levels to nationally recognized standards, and providing for improved apparatus and equipment replacement to be funded through an additional special benefit assessment in CSA 48.

 

Background

The Santa Cruz County Fire Department serves specific areas of unincorporated Santa Cruz County known as County Service Area 48 (CSA 48). CSA 48 includes the communities of Bonny Doon, Davenport, Loma Prieta, Corralitos, Las Cumbres and the wider South Skyline area. County Fire provides a range of fire suppression protection, prevention, and other fire and emergency related services to properties within these areas.

 

The County Fire Department operates in CSA 48 with five year-round volunteer fire stations in cooperation with five State fire stations. The County contracts with CALFire to keep these State fire stations open during the non-fire season to ensure fire protection and emergency response services are provided throughout the year. The County's contract with CALFire during non-fire season provides one State paid firefighter and one County funded firefighter per engine. The agreement with CALFire during non-fire season is to ensure year-round fire protection and emergency response services and limited weed abatement, firefighter training and administrative support.

For the past 10 years, the level of County Fire service has decreased due to: 1) approximately 45% reduction in volunteer firefighters available to supplement response and 2) increased costs for the paid firefighter response and service with no increase of funding. In 2008, due to increased contract costs and County desire to open a fifth fire station, CALFire contracted staffing was reduced from three firefighters per engine (one paid by State two paid by County) to the current service level of two firefighters (one paid by State one paid by County) per engine outside of high fire season (November through May). In concert with the reduced volunteer firefighters available, it has effectively reduced the immediate response levels to three firefighters per response using both paid and volunteers as its current operating practice. This reduced staffing level has required County Fire to dispatch more engines to respond to meet the required number of firefighters at the scene of a fire and other responses. At times when multiple emergency calls are received, County Fire lacks sufficient resources, both contracted and volunteer firefighters, to respond with adequate service levels. In an additional effort to reduce costs, County Fire has deferred all but the most critical and necessary facilities maintenance. Despite cutbacks, the County Fire budget has been operating at a deficit that has been resolved annually by using operating reserves. Absent additional revenues, County Fire has projected that the current operating reserve will be depleted in as soon as eight years, resulting in the possibility of further reduced levels of service.

 

Analysis

To improve the service levels in terms of staffing, equipment, and continued viability, County Fire proposes a new special assessment be levied on property owners within the boundaries of CSA 48.  The proposed assessment will restore contracted fire staffing levels to three firefighters per engine (one paid by State two paid by County) during non-fire season and will significantly contribute to improved safety and protection, coupled with the Volunteer firefighter responses, to incidences within CSA 48. In addition to improving County Fire’s responsiveness during non-fire season, these additional resources will allow for increased focus on fire prevention activities. Additionally, much of County Fire’s fleet of vehicles, equipment and apparatus are aging, in some cases, up to 28 years old, while the recommended lifespan for a front line engine is 10 years. The proposed assessment includes ongoing funding to allow for regular, planned replacement of County Fire’s fleet, equipment and apparatus. Any new or increased assessment is governed by the provisions of Proposition 218.

 

Proposition 218

Proposition 218, approved by the voters in 1996, and enshrined in the California Constitution as Articles XIII C and XIII D , provides for benefit assessments to be levied to fund the cost of providing services, improvements, as well as maintenance and operation expenses of a public improvement that provide a special benefit to the assessed property. Any new or increased assessment requires the County to follow Proposition 218 procedures, including:

·              Engineer’s Report, prepared by a registered civil engineer, that details the methodology for calculating any assessment rate

·              Assessment must be based on proportional special benefit to each parcel

·              Public Hearing related to the proposed assessment

·              Property-owner ballot mailing

·              Votes tallied based on amount of assessment paid

·              Certification of the vote

 

The Board of Supervisors previously adopted Proposition 218 Balloting Proceedings on June 10, 2008.

 

Proposed Assessment Rate

In February of 2019, County Fire entered into a contract with SCI Consulting Group (SCI), of Fairfield, to prepare the required Engineer’s Report regarding the provision of improved staffing ratios and vehicle and apparatus replacement. Pages 19 - 33 of the attached Engineers Report provides the detailed methodology for development of the special assessment, consistent with Proposition 218 requirements, including separation of general versus special benefits.

 

The proposed assessment would fund the special benefit received by properties within CSA 48 associated with increased staffing from three firefighter engineers per engine to four; and allow for appropriate replacement of outdated fire vehicles. SCI used four factors to calculate the proposed assessment rate for each parcel within CSA 48:

·              Fire-risk

·              Structure replacement value

·              Fire hazard risk zone

·              Travel time from closest fire station

 

The assessment charge has been calculated for nine different property types. Rates are based on a Single Family Home Equivalent (SFE), with a factor applied to other property types based on the SFE.  Vacant, agricultural, parking lots, rangeland and open space parcels less than an acre, would pay less than a typical SFE, while multi-family, commercial/industrial, office, and storage parcels would pay more.

 

SCI analyzed County Fire’s service levels to determine the budget required to provide improved fire protection and emergency response and recommends a proposed assessment rate of $148.72 per SFE. The proposed assessment would provide an additional $1,551,118 for County Fire services.

Property Type

Proposed Rate

Unit

Single Family Home

$148.72

Each

Multi-Family

$142.74

Res unit

Commercial/Industrial

$678.27

acre

Office

$174.37

acre

Storage

$1,061.03

acre

Parking Lot

$34.74

acre

Vacant

$34.74

acre

Agricultural

$6.05

acre

Range Land and Open Space

$0.15

acre

 

The proposed assessment rates are used along with the relative fire hazard zone factor and the relative travel time factor to calculate the assessment for each parcel.

 

Education Efforts

County Fire contracted with Clifford-Moss to provide education outreach and to gauge community interest in a proposed assessment. Over the past several months, the following educational activities have occurred:

Fact Sheet - available online and distributed to social media networks (email, Facebook, Nextdoor)

FAQ - available online and distributed to social media networks (email, Facebook, Nextdoor)

Mailer #1 Distribution (with Survey) 5 customized area versions to 10,000 residents

Email Distributions:

·              Bonny Doon - 750 resident email distribution list (FAQ, Fact Sheet, Mailer and Town Hall Flyer)

·              Loma Prieta - 2,500 resident email distribution list (FAQ, Fact Sheet, Mailer and Town Hall Flyer)

Reminder Calls - Approximately 1,250 reminder calls for Town Hall meetings completed by Volunteer Firefighters

Town Hall Meetings and Presentations:

·              Las Cumbres: ~ 40 attendees; Majority Support

·              Corralitos: ~ 50 attendees; Majority Support

·              Davenport: ~25 attendees; Majority Support

·              Loma Prieta: ~ 70 attendees; Majority Support

·              Bonny Doon: ~ 100 attendees; Mixed Support

·              Paradise Park: ~100 attendees; Majority Support

·              Farm Bureau: ~ 35 attendees, Majority Support

·              Fire Department Advisory Commission: 10 attendees; Formal recommendation to move forward with a ballot measure

 

Conclusion

County Fire recommends the Board approve the recommended actions for a new assessment. Once ballots are mailed, property-owners will have at least 45 days to submit their ballots for consideration, up to the January 14, 2020 public hearing. Each ballot will be customized for the property owner showing the parcel number and amount of the proposed assessment. Property owners of multiple parcels will only receive one ballot with all of their parcel numbers and proposed assessment rates.

Body

Strategic Plan Element(s)

4.B Sustainable Environment (Natural Resources)

The proposed assessment would allow County Fire to increase personnel and replace outdated equipment that helps to protect Santa Cruz County susceptible to fire danger.

 

6.A Operational Excellence (Customer Experience)

The proposed assessment will allow for improved fire response and will increase customer satisfaction.

6.C Operational Excellence (County Infrastructure)

Increased funding will allow County Fire to responsibly repair and replace fire apparatus and equipment and address deferred maintenance at fire stations.

 

 

Meeting History

Oct 22, 2019 9:00 AM Video Board of Supervisors Regular Meeting

1) ApproveD Engineer’s Report for County Service Area 48, County Fire (CSA 48);

2) AdoptED Resolution No. 230-2019 of Intention to Levy Assessments in CSA 48;

3) SCHEDULED January 14, 2020 at 9:00 a.m., or thereafter, as the date and time for a public hearing on the proposed assessment;

4) DirectED Clerk of the Board to publish a summary notice of the public hearing once a week for two weeks prior to the hearing in a newspaper of general circulation;

5) ApproveD the sample ballot and notification for the proposed 2020-21 assessment for CSA 48; and

6) DIRECTED County Fire to mail ballots at least 45 days prior to the public hearing to the record owners of properties subject to the proposed increased assessment.

RESULT:APPROVED [UNANIMOUS]
MOVER:Bruce McPherson, Fifth District Supervisor
SECONDER:John Leopold, First District Supervisor
AYES:John Leopold, Zach Friend, Ryan Coonerty, Greg Caput, Bruce McPherson

Discussion