Would you consider a new tax to keep Fire Station 12 up and running?
With the Shell Avenue station set to close on Jan. 15, Consolidated Fire officials, members of the Board of Supervisors (who also serve as the board of directors for the fire district), and city officials will meet with residents on Thursday to explain the closure and what it will mean in terms of response times.
A meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Martinez Jr. High.
Meanwhile, City Councilman Mark Ross is suggesting the formation of a benefit district that would fund the continuation of the fire station through a parcel tax. Though Mayor Rob Schroder has expressed some skepticism about such a move, at least one member of the community supports the idea.
In November, supervisors unanimously agreed to shut down fire stations in Martinez, Lafayette and Walnut Creek, and staff a station in Clayton for six hours per day. The dramatic drop in property taxes due to the 2008 housing bubble collapse created the revenue shortage, according to Fire Chief Daryl Louder. Others say it is due to the cost of firefighter pensions.
The closure of those four stations is expected to save $3 million of the ConFire $17 million budget deficit. Louder has warned that the district faces more station closures next year.
But Ross is proposing an idea to keep Station 12 open. It is one of three stations in Martinez — it’s actually located in an unincorporated area adjacent to the city — and is closest to the Shell Refinery.
“What I had in mind was a service benefit district, where residents around the firehouse in question would perhaps chip in a little on property tax, as would any major industry that might be nearby,” Ross said Monday. He noted that the idea has not been discussed with the county, the fire department or the community.
“I can see that this station is of value to the area,” Ross said, noting that though the Shell Refinery has its own fire department, the surrounding neighborhood benefits from having a fire station nearby. “The area around this station is densely populated near an industrial facility,” he said. “I would think that all parties concerned might have an interest in keeping this station open. If the current mechanism is not protecting the people already paying for it, then (a tax) discussion should at least be had.”
“I’m not happy about the closures,” said Mayor Rob Schroder. “They’re looking at closures next year as well. All of our stations are there because they were cited years ago when there was development around those areas. They’re not necessarily in most advantageous spots in the district.”
He added that the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO, on which Schroder sits) has been speaking with all fire districts in the county to explore ways to consolidate services.
Regarding Ross’s idea to form a special tax district, Schroder noted that only 53 percent of Martinez voters approved of Measure Q in November, which would have raised parcel taxes by $75 to continue funding the stations.
“I don’t know if people here would be willing to tax themselves to keep that station open,” he said.
Cheryll Grover, a resident of the Mountain View area in which Station 12 is located, said she would "fully support the effort to form a special district." She noted that two-thirds of the voters in the Mountain View area supported Measure Q.