Russian River Fire Protection District directors voted unanimously last week to seek approval to annex the River Fire District into the larger Sonoma County Fire District.
Once it’s completed, the annexation would dissolve the nearly 100-year-old Russian River Fire District, which serves approximately 5,000 fulltime residents within the district’s 18 square miles. The Russian River District also comprises an ambulance district that serves nearly 200 square miles.
The request now goes to the Sonoma County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for approval of an “amended sphere of influence” to dissolve the existing Russian River Fire District and annex it into the larger Sonoma County Fire District (SCFD).
LAFCO’s commissioners are also looking at a larger “sphere of influence” for the SCFD that could eventually take in the Monte Rio, Camp Meeker and Cazadero fire protection districts, said Bramfitt.
“The River Fire District already provides ambulance service to Monte Rio and Cazadero,” said Bramfitt. “We need to consider whether all of those want to be consolidated.”
Plans are shaping up over the next five years to consolidate “the entire lower river” into one fire protection district, said Bramfitt.
Historic resistance to past fire district consolidation plans have focused mainly on concerns about loss of local control.
“People are always concerned about that,” said Bramfitt, but “I think that’s changing.”
With all the county’s small fire protection entities now looking at annexation, said Bramfitt, “The line is getting longer” for annexation approval.
River Fire District directors say the SCFD annexation will save district taxpayers money while improving future fire and emergency medical service in the lower river area.
The annexation amendment will still require a public hearing, said Bramfitt.
Annexation would transfer governance of the Russian River Fire Protection District to the SCFD’s seven-person board of directors and would change the annual parcel tax Russian River Fire Protection District property owners now pay for fire and ambulance service.
Once annexed into the SCFD, river property owners, who now pay $140 per single family dwelling, could be charged slightly less — $132 for an 1,100 square-foot home, the median size of a home in the river district. But owners of larger homes would pay more, up to the higher annual SCFD parcel tax rate of $184.50 per single-family dwelling.
But benefits of annexation outweigh parcel tax hikes, say directors. The river district gains executive and administration leadership, a fire chief and three firefighter and paramedic positions, said Russian River Fire Protection District Board President Jason Weaver.