Faced with a $400,000 budget deficit, the Waterloo Morada Fire District is sponsoring Measure N — a special property tax — to hire additional personnel, purchase new equipment and open another fire station.
The district is already feeling the affects of the budget deficit, which Fire Chief Steven Henry said will only get worse if the measure does not pass.
“We would probably see...a reduction in staffing to overcome that sizable deficit,” Henry said.
Should voters in the district decide not to pass the tax measure, Henry said layoffs could begin as early as this summer.
With only 15 firefighters and one fire station, Henry believes the district cannot afford to make those staffing cuts.
Created in 1947, the 36-square-mile district extends west to Highway 99, east to Beecher Road, north to Live Oak Road and south to Highway 26.
Independent of both San Joaquin County and the City of Stockton, the district is primarily funded by taxpayers.
“We have not had a tax increase since 1986,” Henry said.
Measure N would impose a tax of $0.07 per square foot of residential property, $0.10 per square foot of residential property and a flat tax of $12 per parcel of vacant or agricultural land to generate approximately $1,300,000 per year for the next nine years
Should Measure N pass, a residential property owner would pay $70 for every 1,000 square feet.
Ballots will be mailed to registered voters in the district on or around April 8, Henry said, and if approved by voters, the tax would go into effect on May 8, one day after the special election is scheduled to end.
“We need to make a decision on what we’re going to do now to prevent a financial crisis in two or three years once our reserves run out,” Henry said.
Henry attributes the budget deficit to rising costs, with approximately 89 percent of the district’s budget covering the costs of services, labor, salaries and benefit increases.
Pension costs accounted for $871,031 — or 30 percent — of the district’s $2,930,221 budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, Henry said, a cost that has been rising for years.
“Over the past three years, there has been an eight-percent increase by (the San Joaquin County Retirement Association) to cover unrealized investments,” Henry said in an email. “The fire district is paying $0.29 for every salary dollar into the employee fund, and $0.45 for every salary dollar into the unfunded liability portion of the fund determined by the SJCERA.”
Firefighters themselves are not to blame for the rising pension costs, Henry said in the email, as he believes they have earned the benefits promised to them by the district.
“The fire district will continue to pay what it owes, and the good news is that recent and significant pension reforms will protect the district from these types of financial challenges going forward,” Henry said in the email.
“This measure will determine the level of service that the community will receive. We are the busiest fire district in the county with 2,253 calls for service last year. If we don’t get additional revenues approved, the emergency services will be drastically reduced.”
Should the measure pass, Henry said the district will not only be able to pay off its debts but also increase its staffing from 15 firefighters to 18 right away, and hopefully to 21 over the next nine years.
The district would also be able to purchase much-needed equipment, Henry said, and open a second fire station in the north end of the district to improve response times in that area.
“We used to have two stations, but we had to close one due to annexation by Stockton,” Henry said.
To provide more information to the public, the district will hold the following meetings:
• 6 p.m. March 20 at the Waterloo Morada Fire Station, 6925 E. Foppiano Lane, Stockton.
• 6 p.m. April 1 at Waverly Elementary School, 3507 Wilmarth Road, Stockton.
• 6 p.m. April 3 at Waterloo Elementary School, 7007 Pezzi Road, Stockton.