Friday, April 1, 2016

Lessons from Morongo Valley

Morongo Valley is facing increases in their fire assessments quite similar to our. Wonder Valley can learn from their research, experiences, and choices.  Donald Krouse of Morongo Valley wrote the Guest Soapbox below for the Desert Trail.

Morongo Valley has its own Paid Call Fire Department and the tax increase would fund a shortfall in their budget. Currently they have four people on staff at all times. County Fire's proposal would reduce them to a 2- or 3- person firehouse for a much higher increase.

Costs of rejecting tax proposal will be too high, January 7, 2016
Your View: Guest Soapbox, By Donald Krouse, Morongo Valley

Some additional information and persuasion may be useful for Morongo Valley voters about “Morongo Valley to vote on $350 fire tax” (Dec. 17).

The net increase for the fire tax, after eliminating the existing fire assessment, will be approximately $200 for improved properties (55 cents more per day). The increase for unimproved properties is a big jump (93 cents per day) if now paying $10 per year.

Unimproved parcel owners may not like it today, but if people purchase parcels while calculating a future profit, they generally weigh costs and benefits. Future values are easily threatened by lack of fire and paramedic services. Smart buyers negotiate for lower prices when unprotected risks exist. A “high fire risk” area surrounds Morongo Valley.

If you someday want to sell your home, you will see downward pricing pressures if potential buyers cannot get mortgages because insurance companies decline to insure the high risk. That is called an undesirable market.

Five miles from a locally staffed fire station is a first consideration in fire insurance risk assessment. Without local fire services, existing homeowners’ insurance premiums increase by amounts that dwarf the cost of the fire tax.

After East Contra Costa voters lost their fire protection district, fire risk ratings shot up. Before voting “no,” East Contra Costa citizens passionately accused their local board of lying, fear mongering and over-generous spending even after the board documented the facts.
Local property owners now report annual insurance increases of $3,500 to $5,000 over their old premiums. Outsiders might honestly wonder about the intelligence of East Contra Costa voters casting penny-pinching rather than dollar-wise votes.

San Bernardino County Fire could annex Morongo Valley into its fire district, but that comes with even greater cost. They gave us two written proposals. They make no distinction between improved and unimproved land. The proposed parcel cost is 181 percent higher ($635 for the minimal staffing proposal), or 242 percent higher ($853) than the Morongo Valley CSD board’s recommendation to maintain current services. Future tax increases would be determined at the county level, not by Morongo Valley voters.

All fire departments have seen costs escalate since Morongo Valley approved the (to-be eliminated) assessment in 2002. Morongo Valley cost increases are not primarily due to wages, as some mistakenly claim. Ours are among the lowest paid firefighters in California, so why would anyone credibly argue for cutting firefighter staffing or salaries when they put their lives at risk for us, just to save less than $1 per day?