New tax among possible solutions to help increase fire resources in Madera County

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Madera County is considering ways to increase its fire resources to better protect residents and keep homeowners' insurance rates from skyrocketing. (KFSN)

Madera County is considering ways to increase its fire resources to better protect residents and keep homeowners' insurance rates from skyrocketing. One of the options could be a new tax.

Madera County has 16 fire stations, but 10 of them are staffed only by paid call firefighters. Officials say the lack of personnel, updated equipment and other resources is now impacting insurance rates, so homeowners will pay the price unless something changes.

Madera County was hit hard by wildfires last year, including the Courtney Fire that destroyed 30 homes near Bass Lake. Now, many residents fear this year could be just as bad because of the drought. They're also concerned about the initial response time with just 30 permanent paid call fire personnel across the entire county. That's the same as it was in the 1920s.

"I think the county could use more, especially here in the Ranchos. We've had a couple of buildings burn here, I think, and had a fire truck with water on it and nobody to drive it," Madera County resident John Finley said.

Officials say the number of paid call firefighters has also dwindled over the past decade, largely because of the economy. The lack of staff was just one factor that led to worse ratings by the Insurance Services Office, or ISO, after a review last summer.

"Part of that evaluation is our ability to respond with the number of personnel, the amount of water, the size of pumps that we have on fire engines, all those things they look at that in totality," Madera Division Chief Ron Eldridge said.

As a result, some homeowners have seen their insurance rates increase already, and certain homes can't be insured at all. That's why Cal Fire leaders made a presentation to the board of supervisors last week offering a variety of possible solutions, including a half-cent sales tax that could generate $7.5 million specifically for public safety each year. Sheriff Jay Varney says that money would also go a long way for his department.

"It would allow us to get back to a staffing level that we had going back to even 2001," said Varney. "We currently have minimally eight beats within the county that we would like to staff every day, and frankly we're never able to do that."

Varney is set to make his presentation to the board next week. The sales tax idea is just one of many possibilities, but if it moves forward, it could appear on the ballot in June 2016.

Related Topics:
politicsfirewildfirefirefighterstaxesChowchillaMadera County
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