After months of looking into possible solutions for their budget issues, the Woodbridge Rural Fire Protection District Board of Directors on Friday voted 5-0 to approve a measure for a special tax that will be added to the ballot for November’s general election.
“Our sole funding source is through property taxes and fees that might be applied to new development. That’s our only revenue source,” Board President Richard Gerlack said. “There hasn’t been much development in the past few years, and what little there has been is usually tax-exempt like churches.”
Woodbridge Fire’s revenue began decreasing when the 2008 economic downturn lowered property values in the county, Gerlack said. And in 2011, the district began withdrawing from their capital reserves, which the board determined was an insufficient source of long-term revenue.
After exploring alternative solutions, Gerlack said the board found the proposed tax to be their best option to fund the district’s four stations in Woodbridge, Lodi and Acampo serving a 192-square-mile area including 10 square miles to the north of Woodbridge and 118 square miles to the west.
If approved in November by two-thirds of the voters, an annual tax of $.035 per square foot of all buildings under roof lines such as multi-story buildings, covered areas without walls, garages and unheated storage rooms or attachments such as covered decks, Gerlack said, along with a flat tax of $50 per year on parcels of land without buildings.
All revenue will be used to pay for fire prevention, suppression and emergency response services, Gerlack said. A five-person volunteer oversight committee appointed by the board will ensure that the money is spent properly until the tax expires after 10 years.
“If you’re going to have a five-person oversight committee, my suggestion is that you should be as clear as possible about where that money is going to go and what each of those three categories means.” board member Tom Alexander said.
Gerlack agreed with Alexander, saying that those questions and more will be answered when the board begins holding town hall meetings to educate the public about the tax and solicit their input following Friday’s meeting and that the oversight committee would submit annual reports, explaining where the money is spent.
“It’s about building trust with the community,” Gerlack said. “That way, they can know where the money is going and what it’s being used for. It’s about transparency.”