Madera County explores raising sales tax to fund fire department

Fire Marshal Deborah Keenan says many people's annual insurance rates have skyrocketed since the Insurance Services Office found some areas to be substandard last year.
CHOWCHILLA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Madera County has been hit hard by fires in the past few years, and officials say staffing levels have become a major concern. They're now reaching out to the community for support.

When fires break out in Madera County, volunteers are often the first to respond. "There are no paid staff firefighters in the northern part of Madera County. They're all volunteers. If you see someone along the 99, 152, or in the City of Chowchilla, you're looking at a volunteer firefighter," said Justin White, Chowchilla Volunteer Firefighter.

But the number of volunteers, or paid call firefighters, is dwindling because of the all the time it takes to go through training and respond to hundreds of calls each year. "I think in this day in age with two working parents in the home and the struggles of life in general make it more and more difficult to find the time it takes to contribute to any civic activIty including volunteer firefighting," said White.

That's a big concern for the county because it only has 30 full time Cal Fire employees.

"So our staffing levels of 30 people has stayed the same going on roughly 75-80 years and they're protecting so much more -- and it's gettIng to the point where it's too much, and that's what our insurance companies are telling us," said Deborah Kennan, Madera County Fire Marshal.

Keenan says many people's annual rates have skyrocketed by thousands of dollars since the insurance services office found some areas to be substandard last year. The county has provided more information that could help change that, but now officials are also gathering public input on a half cent sales tax. "The tax measure would also help with everything from fire engines to fire stations to staffing if we can get, depends on how much it creates."

The money would be split among all public safety in the county, and the measure could appear on the ballot next June.

Another step officials are taking is trying to get the Insurance Services Office to recognize the county's eight Cal Fire stations. They say that would make a significant impact toward lowering insurance rates. null
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