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May 14, 2024 | San Joaquin County to increase funding to rural fire districts to help cover revenue lost from Proposition 172

San Joaquin County, California seal with fruits, bridge, airplane and a slogan: "Greatness grows here."
Three decades ago, fire districts across the state lost millions of dollars in property tax revenue when a state law shifted monies to educational programs. In July, some 19 rural fire districts in San Joaquin County will start getting some of that lost revenue back. The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-0 to increase funding to fire districts by $1.1 million annually to cover about a quarter of the funding they have lost due to Proposition 172. The law, approved by California voters in 1993, established a permanent statewide half-cent sales tax to provide funding for qualifying public safety programs to partially replace property taxes that were shifted from local agencies to local school districts as part of the 1993-1994 California budget agreement. That shift has come to be known as Educational Revenue Augmentation Funds, or ERAF. According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, the law stated that cities and counties were to use their allocations from the half-cent sales tax to support “public safety” functions. Senate Bill 509 defines public safety functions to include, police and sheriffs, fire protection, county district attorneys, ocean lifeguards, and county corrections. However, the LAO said neither Proposition 172 or SB 509 explicitly required counties maintain prior levels of local support for public safety, or that the half-cent sales tax revenues be used only to supplement prior levels of spending for these functions. In 1993-1994, it was estimated that $34.3 million in property tax revenue was shifted from San Joaquin County, and the half-cent sales tax was estimated to backfill about $18.7 million, according to Tuesday’s staff report. In 2023-2024, the backfill from the tax is about $113.1 million of $206.6 million lost, staff said. Woodbridge Rural Fire District received one of the largest increases from Tuesday’s approval, with $124,481 to be allocated. Lincoln Rural Fire District will receive $140,536, Tracy Rural Fire District will receive $134,205, and Lathrop-Manteca Rural Fire District will receive $132,283. Eastside Rural Fire District should be receiving $125,499, according to staff. Waterloo-Morada Rural Fire District Chief Art Walder thanked supervisors for approving the allocation, noting the county was one of only 10 in the state to recognize how ERAF affected fire agencies. Walder also serves as president of the San Joaquin County Fire Chiefs Association. “About 10% of all fire districts’ revenue has been shifted to education,” he said. “So being a county that looks forward, takes that into account and puts fire districts on the forefront, we thank you for that.” Other agencies in the Lodi area to be allocated funding include Clements Rural Fire District, which will receive $20,351, Liberty Rural Fire District, which will receive $35,388, and Mokelumne Rural Fire District, which will receive $22,047. Thornton Rural Fire District will receive $7,462, and Woodbridge Fire’s Forest Lake station will receive $6,218. “For this board, public safety is our top priority, and we don’t have a county fire department, per se,” Supervisor Robert Rickman said. “So you all are our fire departments, and it doesn’t matter what city you work in. You respond to our unincorporated areas, which is the county. This is just fairness.” After board direction during the 2022-2023 proposed budget hearings two years ago, Rickman met periodically with county staff and the Fire Chiefs Executive Board to explore a plan to allocate funds to districts affected by the ERAF. “The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors proudly supports our local fire districts,” board chair Miguel Villapudua said. “Our residents rely on fire departments for life-saving assistance, and our Board wants to ensure that they are staffed and have the equipment they need to provide top level service to our communities.”   Wes Brown. "San Joaquin County to increase funding to rural fire districts to help cover revenue lost from Proposition 172.",16 May 2024.