Woodlake's Fire Dept. may see cuts

By Reggie Ellis

Fire service in Woodlake may see some cuts following the narrow defeat of Measure L.

The measure proposed a special tax on property within the fire district by $1.88 per month, or $22.60 per year for the first year beginning July 2006. After that, the tax could have been increased annually with the same percentage as the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Measure L needed a two-thirds majority and fell just short at 62%.

&#8220There will have to be some cuts in service,” Fire Chief Jose Perez said. &#8220Myself and the board will have to get together and figure out where we will cut.”

The fire district's Board of Commissioners put the measure on the ballot because the district is already operating at a $30,000 deficit because of the increases in worker's comp insurance, liability insurance and fuel costs. Perez said that because of the dangerous nature of firefighting, insurance is extremely high and had doubled in the last year.

&#8220Now that there are more people in the district, we are being stretched thin,” Perez said.

The measure may have been defeated because of voters questioning why the district would need additional funding following the construction of a brand new garage at the fire station.

However, the $140,000 garage was built with grant money from the Woodlake Redevelopment Agency to house a new heavy fire engine partially purchased through the USDA's Rural Development and not with money from the fire district. None of the grant money was eligible to be used for personnel or overhead costs.

&#8220There is no way to get inside the mind of the voters, but that may have had something to do with it,” Perez said. &#8220I think people may have seen things that way.”

Voters may also have been confused about the fire district itself. Despite a door-to-door informational campaign, Woodlake is one of two remaining fire districts in Tulare County with the other, Strathmore Fire District, contracting with the Tulare County Fire Department/CDF.

Woodlake Fire District does not contract with TCFD/CDF so is responsible for all fire funding.

Only about 600 of the more than 1,500 registered voters showed up at the polls.

&#8220There may have been some confusion there,” Perez said. &#8220I think some people might even think we fall under the City of Woodlake. We do not get any funding from the city. We are completely separate.”

District staffing includes a fire chief, in charge of administration and fire suppression, a captain and one fire apparatus engineer.

All have first duty fire suppression and other duties. The district also has 16 volunteer firefighters who respond to emergency calls when needed. Perez said firefighters work an 84-hour workweek in order to provide fire coverage 24 hours a day seven days a week.

&#8220Most people only work a 40-hour work week,” Perez said. &#8220We are already staffed to the bone. If we have to cut hours we won't be able to provide 24-hour coverage.”

Woodlake is also a growing community with an 82-acre subdivision already in the works.

Without the additional property tax revenue the board will have to make some tough choices beginning at their next meeting on Nov. 29.

The Woodlake Fire District Board of Commissioners meets at 6:30 p.m. on the last Tuesday of the month at the fire station, 216 E. Naranjo Blvd. in Woodlake.

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