May 9, 2020 – All parcel owners within the Penn Valley Fire Protection District should have received a Fire Assessment Fee ballot proposing a change in their current fee. If approved, improved parcel rates will increase $216.04 from the current $80.54 annual fee for a total of $296.58.

Ballots received by the June 2, 2020 deadline will be tabulated and the proposal will pass if the 50%+1 threshold is met. If it fails to achieve this threshold there will be no increase in the annual assessment.

The Question:

The question before parcel owners is simply “what is your expectation?” In moment of emergency do you expect immediate response? Is that a 5-10 minute response? Or is it your expectation to wait 20-30 minutes for a fire engine or paramedic-staffed ambulance? Your expectation will be directly impacted the way you choose to vote on this fee assessment.

What happens if it passes?

Penn Valley Fire will have the necessary funds to hire and retain an additional six firefighter/paramedics, allowing for reduced response times in emergency.

What happens if it fails?

Response times will continue to lengthen as demonstrated by the 62% increase in calls for service.

The Decision:

What we are being asked to decide is the amount of time we, as parcel owners, are willing to wait for emergency services. The time it takes from the moment you dial 911 to the time emergency vehicles arrive at your house is what will be determined by the outcome of our response.

The key info:

  1. Currently there are 4 firefighter/paramedics on duty at any given time in Penn Valley Fire District, which encompasses 92 square miles. Personnel work in a team of two, typically allowing for a response to up to two calls at a time. Some calls require all available staffing. The target response time is 9 minutes. Increasingly, calls for service have been coming at a rate of 2-3 calls at a time, making it necessary for a neighboring mutual aid response, typically a unit from Grass Valley Fire. It often takes 10-20 minutes longer (depending upon where within the district you reside) for a unit from Grass Valley to reach you. Fire doubles in size every minute.
  1. The proposed fee increase is to afford the hiring and retention of an additional six firefighter/paramedics. This adds two per shift and allows up to three call responses at a time, decreasing response time. Instead of a third call waiting the additional 10-20 minutes for a unit from a neighboring agency, Penn Valley Fire would have staffing to respond to all calls within their target response time of 9 minutes (again, depending upon where you live in relation to the fire station.)

How the Fire District is funded and how they obtain an increase in budget?

Most of us are somewhat familiar with how federal, state and county agencies are funded, but few recognize the difference in funding for special districts. Penn Valley Fire Protection District is classified as a Special District that provides a necessary service to the community.

When a federal, state or county agency is creating their annual budget they cost out their needs and present their budget request to the elected body that determines the distribution of the General Fund. There is typically a budget from the previous funding cycle plus additional needs (new projects/expenses) necessary in order to meet their mission of providing whatever service it is they provide. They look at what can reasonably be cut or reallocated without harming the mission and, if there is a shortfall, they present a request to the elected body for additional funding. This is a simplified explanation, but the point is that there is somewhere to go to request and make a case for a larger portion of the General Fund monies when you are federal, state or county funded.

Special Districts like Penn Valley Fire have only one place to go when they are unable to provide their service at the amount currently allotted. They must directly appeal to parcel owners. At their expense, they are required by law to hire an impartial third party engineer to study the agency and determine the actual cost needed for providing the service that completes their mission. Budgets are scrutinized, all potential cost reduction is thoroughly investigated and an Engineers Report is drafted which presents the findings. In this instance, the independent third party report showed Penn Valley Fire cannot provide the service for which it is responsible without the proposed increase.

You may read the Engineers Report at and you may reach out to the Fire Chief directly by phoning (530) 432-2630 if you would like help understanding any portion of the report.

Living within Budget:

Living within ones budget is an absolute. We all have to do so. Penn Valley Fire has spent the past 15 years attempting to so just that. Their compensation packages are the lowest in the region. They maintain elderly apparatus. They have engaged dedicated community support to fund new equipment. (Fun fact—the ambulances and engines have been bought and paid for by the Firefighter Auxiliary that runs the Penn Valley Fire Thrift Store.) They restructured command staff and cut positions to the point that new construction and new businesses are complaining it takes too long for inspections and approvals because there is simply no fire staff available to complete this work in a timely fashion. They have delayed the hiring of the necessary six firefighter/paramedics necessary to maintain adequate response times. There is nothing more to cut and no way to address this situation other than to ask parcel owners to approve the funding they require to keep us safe. And the actual cost of providing service continues to rise.

The Expectation:
Penn Valley Fire, a Special District, has only one place to turn for the required funding to provide the level of service the community expects and deserves. Penn Valley Fire appeals to parcel owners in this special election. It is up to parcel owners to determine the level of service they desire and to vote accordingly. It’s all about expectations and if we expect a timely response to an emergency, we need to provide the funding necessary.

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