ROUGH&READY, Calif. Feb. 15, 2023 – No candle-lit dinner, but tasty cookies awaited attendees of Rough & Ready Fire board of directors’ meeting on Tuesday evening. No breakthrough in solving the district’s financial difficulties, but neighboring departments and county representatives once again expressed their willingness to work towards a solution.

Rough & Ready Fire board meeting on Feb. 14
Rough & Ready Fire board meeting on Feb. 14. Photo YubaNet

The adoption of the district’s revised budget was tabled, directors need more time to dig through the proposed changes.

The update from the consolidation committee focused on the upcoming town hall and their Monday meeting with the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCo). Directors Doug Wittler kicked off the report, stating “Back in May of last year we had kind of a meeting of the minds that long-term, Rough and Ready was going to be in financial straits by the end of the fiscal year, the middle of this year. Fortunately we saw that back then. So we decided that we should make a feasibility study with consolidation possible with our district to the west and also our district to the east. We did go up and meet with Consolidated Fire District, made overtures and looked at possibly merging with them to see if that would be a good direction for us to go. And then we also went down and met with the Penn Valley Board and we asked them the same thing, if they would be interested in merging, consolidating or annexing our fire district.”

“After talking to both groups, because of the relationship with Penn Valley and our continued calls into that area, that Penn Valley would probably make the most sense to us. We did form a committee on a joint committee with Penn Valley. That committee is myself, Tom Nelson, who’s on our board, also Bruce Stevenson, who is here tonight. He is the Penn Valley Chairman of the Board and also another Penn Valley Committee member, Terry McMahon. We formed this committee along with Don Wagner here. He’s the Penn Valley Chief and he’s also our operational Chief [since September],” Wittler continued.

The committee found out pretty early on that consolidation with Penn Valley without funding is not doable and the funding is still not secured. Their projection of when they will have to change their operational model is coming up in June, according to Wittler.

Town hall on Feb 22 at 6:00 pm

According to a news release, the public is invited and encouraged to attend a Rough and Ready Fire District Town Hall Meeting on Wednesday, February 22, 6:00PM at the Rough and Ready Fire Department, 14506 Rough and Ready Highway. The purpose of the meeting is to inform residents of a serious financial shortfall that is impacting service. Directors of Rough and Ready Fire Protection District, along with R&RFPD/PVFPD Consolidation Committee members and Nevada County District 4 Supervisor Sue Hoek will be available to hear concerns and respond to questions.

Said Wittler, “So we want to get a lot of questions and answers, ideas from everybody that pays taxes in our district. Everybody has a stake in the game, everybody view that live in our district. We hope that you show up, participate, give us ideas, share your ideas with us. And then after our town hall, we’ll have Penn Valley’s Town Hall [on March 8, 2023] and then we’ll zero in on where our finances look at that point and then make some recommendations to our board. There’s a lot of scenarios out there, none of which I want to explore tonight. That’s what the town hall is going to be for, but I encourage you all to come to that. It’s your tax money and we want to provide the best service we possibly can. So we move forward. We have to make some hard decisions.”

Later in the discussion, the committee acknowledged the shortfall is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and they expect to make a recommendation to the full board after the two town hall meetings, likely by the end of March.

Nevada County, Nevada County Consolidated Fire ready to assist

The district has reached out to Nevada County and District 4 Supervisor Sue Hoek attended yesterday’s meeting as well. She explained Nevada County is not in the fire business, however the committee is welcome to send a letter to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) and request funding or additional help. The BOS is bound by the Brown Act and the committee would have to come before the BOS in open session. “Measure V did not pass. I think that’s one place we thought there was just going to be a way to do fund this, but that didn’t happen. We made a new commitment to meet again and talk about how we would look at the financials and look at the tax. I think there was some other ideas that we went over that day. So now we’ll go in that next step. And again, I thought at first we had until next November and now that’s shortened up to June. I would give it out of my own pocket because I believe in the fire services. I voted for my own assessment in my district, and I pay a lot of assessment, but I believe in it. I believe in my firefighters. The unfortunate thing in the small districts, is it is our responsibility as community members to pay for our fire, right? So, I don’t know what the answer is going to be but I’m going to continue to support these guys. On another note, I do think it’s something that we have to pull together as a community and have good heart-to-heart discussions on where this is going to lead. Because one fire department can’t go in red for the other fire department either, right? And that’s been a discussion all through the whole county of that. It’s not just Rough and Ready, this is all over.”

Hoek said she met with Assemblywoman Dahle and also reached out to Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) and State Treasurer Fiona Ma to make sure they weren’t missing out on any funding available. The county’s grant writer is scouring for new opportunities and if the district is planning on applying for any grants, she will provide assistance to review any applications. That’s one of the services the county is providing at the direction of the working group set up by LAFCo, according to Hoek.

Nevada County Consolidated Fire Chief Jason Robitaille and Operations Chief Pat Sullivan also attended the board meeting. Robitaille is part of LAFCO’s working group set up to help with the situation, as well as Penn Valley’s Chief Don Wagner – who is also Rough & Ready’s Operational Chief.

Robitaille took the opportunity to reemphasize NCCFD’s willingness to assist: “I just want to commend the efforts that are going on. I know it’s a difficult situation. I’ve been a part of a consolidation in the past, I know how those processes go. On the 31st, I was glad to attend your meeting and we want to be active participants. Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been briefed of the situation, and we’re pulling for you. I’ll be honest, the reason why I’m coming here is, like I said, not only to lend our support, but also to just clarify that moving forward, we want to be very transparent. We hope that’s on both sides, moving forward and what we can do to just better serve the community, that’s what we’re here for. Service before self, that’s the philosophy I have, as well as my members. So thank you for giving me a couple of moments to introduce myself and let us know what we can do to help.”

Public input

Only a few residents attended the meeting, but they were engaged in the discussion and asked how the town hall would be publicized, and why there wasn’t an uproar throughout the state because of the difficulties many districts go through. Directors said they’ll reach out to the Firewise Communities and road associations in the district and flyers would be posted shortly. The public can also peruse the Consolidation Committee’s website and send their questions to ahead of the town hall.

As previously reported, it all comes down to funding – both through property taxes and voter-approved special taxes. Rough & Ready’s fire district encompasses some 712 parcels, but little new development is occurring.

Other items discussed

The district is attempting to reduce expenses by any means, from giving up their PO Box (a $332 annual saving) to signing up for CalNet, a service contract negotiated by the state to save on phone bills.

In January, Rough & Ready ran 9 calls in their district, 13 calls to Penn Valley and 13 calls to Nevada County Consolidated. Some of the calls occurred on brown out days. Chief Wagner complimented the crew on duty last Thursday who responded to what initially was thought to be a shed on fire. They pulled up to a fully evolved shed and a significant burn victim. One of them started patient care, the other one got a hose line to start putting some water on the fire and ordered up an air ambulance real quickly. With the help of Penn Valley, NCCFD and CAL FIRE, they got a knockdown on the fire and transported the patient to the air ambulance landing zone at Twin Cities Church. The group did a really good job with a very difficult call, according to Chief Wagner.

On a happier note, the monthly Spaghetti Dinners are back on. This Thursday, February 16 starting at 5:00 pm, join your friends and other supporters of the Rough and Ready Fire Department for a free Spaghetti Dinner (donations are welcome.) The delicious dinner of spaghetti with meat sauce, salad and garlic bread is prepared by the Rough and Ready Fire Association.