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What does Ripon Fire do now that Measure A failed?
Dennis Wyatt

 Now that the Ripon community has gotten the attention of the Ripon Consolidated Fire District and vice versa it’s a good time to open the books and educate.

It might be tempting to say Measure A went down in flames due to primarily a backlash over the decision to charge Bethany Home living units double other residences. Simply rewriting the parcel tax and forsaking the double charge that would eliminate $36,250 — the amount of the difference between the proposed residential charge for Bethany and what everyone else would have paid — may not be enough to garner the required votes on a second try at the ballot box in a bid to raise $1.2 million to staff a second fire station within the city limits of Ripon with full-time personnel.

There was a fair share of grumbling about “how we are already paying taxes” and being against a measure some perceived as growth inducing.

The best place to begin is education.

If you are in the fire service you not only see certain needs because it is what you deal with day in and day out but you also know about various restraints such as regulations and financing. Because of your familiarity you may inadvertently assume everyone else understands the issues as well.

The first step might be to have a town hall style meeting to talk about the fire district’s services plus current as well as potential future deficiencies.

Topping the list would be the cost of providing an ambulance service. It’s not cheap. And given how a large chunk of calls out of the gate are subject to not being fully reimbursed under Medi-Cal rules, an ambulance service can be a costly drain. There are significant costs associated with treating and transporting patients. It is why you don’t see too many fire departments that aren’t already providing ambulance transport clamoring to do so.

This is not meant to be a prerequisite to push for Ripon Fire to drop ambulance coverage in favor of a private firm such as American Medical Response. Instead it is simply putting all of the fire department’s cards on the table while showing whatever shortfall there is between what the district collects when they bill for ambulance services and what it costs to provide the service.

It’s likely that most people have no inkling of the drain the ambulance service has on a property tax adopted in 1985.

In terms of coverage Ripon Fire has four firefighters and a supervisor on duty at any given tune at the headquarters station in Stockton Avenue that is on the southern border of the 56 square mile fire district. If everyone was honest they would concede response times have been stretched for years in northeast Ripon predating the mini building boom that is now underway. There is also the question of ambulance staffing. Two of the firefighters man the ambulance leaving two for the fire engine.

Targeted response times should be explained in terms of why they are critical. The bottom line is striving for the best possible outcome when it comes to someone’s life or health as well as saving property.

If you have a child at Ripona or Colony Oak schools or loved ones living in nearby neighborhoods you certainly want to have in place a reasonable response strategy to get help to them as quickly as possible. The district’s plan to do that was Measure A. The $12 million it would have raised annually for full time staffing of the new River Road station would have provided 12 firefighters with four working per shift 24/7. The plan called for manning the backup ambulance at the River Road station as the bulk of calls are medical.

Benefiting immensely from such staffing would be existing residents of Ripon within a mile to the east or south as help would be closer to them than manpower from the station on Stockton Avenue. 

And if you lived in the rural area immediately to the east of Ripon, response times would be reduced as well.

Then there are other cost issues besides personnel. Fire engines — just like your family car — don’t last forever. A typical fire engine costs more than $500,000 to replace while the large aerial trucks cost $1 million.

There is also a serious question that needs to be addressed as urban Ripon has different needs than rural Ripon.

This was a challenge that also faced the City of Lathrop and the Lathrop Manteca Fire District. Not only does that fire district serve the 24,000 plus residents of Lathrop but they also cover the sparsely populated rural areas south and east of the City of Manteca.

Fire districts have limited taxing ability. Lathrop was pushing for stepped up fire service within its city limits. The solution voters approved was a city one cent sales tax on top of the 7.5 percent state sales tax (of which 1 percent goes to the local government where the retail sales transaction takes place) and the half cent countywide Measure K transportation sales tax.

Forty percent of that extra cent approved by city voters includes $1 million a year that goes to the fire district to have more robust staffing of fire station within Lathrop’s city limits.

Manteca has a half cent sales tax strictly for public safety that pays for 15 freighters and 15 police officers.

A city sales tax might be a solution to consider in Ripon. Right now the tax rate in Ripon is 7.75 cents per dollar, in Modesto 7.875 cents, in Manteca 8.25 cents, and in Lathrop 8.75 cents.

Another option might be exploring partnering with a neighboring fire district

Everything should be on the table with a frank two-way discussion.