We need something done to straighten out Sutter County fire

Clearly something beyond ad hoc committee meetings will have to be done about the Sutter County Fire Department. It’s been no secret: the department is short-staffed, has increasing workers compensation costs, broken down engines ... they’re in dire straits, as reported a couple times in the last few weeks.

Last month the Sutter County Grand Jury noted the service area is “dangerously understaffed and alarmingly underfunded.”

Supervisors this week formed a special committee to start dealing with the issues.

The Sutter County Fire Department, County Service Area F, is a 254-square-mile unincorporated area just out of Yuba City. The service area was formed in 1996 when the Live Oak Fire Department, Oswald-Tudor Fire Department and Sutter Fire Department were consolidated. The special fire tax for the district established in 1997 is without an inflation index. So expenditures have well surpassed revenue. 

The average household now pays an average of $40 a year, it was reported, and in return is primarily serviced by a department that is all but crippled. 

Under-staffing caused by the area being underfunded might be attributable for some firefighter injuries, which have resulted in increases in workers compensation claims. Another big expense eating up funds.

“There are a lot of things we’re entertaining to show the public we’re trying to do everything we can to be fiscally responsible, but in the same breath, we’re past that now,” said Chief John Shalowitz. “I have to put it back to the public in some way to say, ‘what level of service do you want? What are you willing to pay for.”

The grand jury, not for the first time citing alarming situations at the department, recommended county supervisors reassess the service area’s revenue stream and special fire tax and consider forgiving the remaining balance of a loan made to them to construct a fire station.

They need to figure out a valid long-term solution. We’re wondering if the supervisors should simply make a fair amount of noise and do all they can to make sure patrons of the district are well aware of the situation, then work on approval of a revamped special fire tax.

It can’t hurt to involve Yuba City citizens in talks about PERS

Kudos to Yuba City Mayor Shon Harris, council member Dave Shaw, and finance director Robin Bertagna for the initiative they’re taking in conducting monthly public meetings on Yuba City and the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). 

How does the city deal with millions of dollars in unfunded liability? We’re not at all sure. 

No one is – and it’s like that everywhere. 

What can’t hurt is involving constituents in the conversation, explaining what’s happening and looking for ideas from the public.

Yuba City, according to a report on the first public meeting, has $70.3 million in unfunded liability. 

It makes annual payments on that total to continue funding retirement for current and retired employees.

The city will pay $4.9 million to cover the unfunded liability payment this year. That’s money not being spent on services and not being invested back into the city.

The meetings are all open to the public and are the third Thursday of each month through December.

Ten people attended the first meeting last week, and the meetings will all be recorded and posted online, too.

Next meeting is Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. at the City Council chambers at City Hall, 1201 Civic Center Blvd., Yuba City Contact Harris at shonharris@yubacity.net or Shaw at dshaw@yubacity.net.

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