Departments plan for W's fire monies

03/20/2019

Representatives of the seven fire departments that serve West Marin have determined how to divvy up funds provided by the increased revenue from the hiked transient occupancy tax, based on the impacts of tourism each department shoulders. 

“I’m so thankful,” Jason Weber, chief of the Marin County Fire Department, said of the incoming funds. “This is such a great opportunity from my perspective to enhance our protection for the communities in West Marin, by attracting and retaining additional volunteers and expanding our coverage.” 

A working group that included representatives from all the fire departments from Muir Beach to Tomales first convened last December to address the passage of Measure W. They were slightly ahead of the game. 

Voters passed Measure W last November to raise the tax collected from overnight visitors in West Marin from 10 percent to 14 percent, earmarking the estimated $1.3 million in additional revenue for regional affordable housing and emergency services. The funds will not be available until July, but a county oversight committee tasked with allocating the funds will meet for the first time on Friday. 

Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, who spearheaded the legislation, said affordable housing groups have not yet decided how to split the funds among themselves. But by the end of January, the ad hoc fire department working group had already finalized a draft memorandum of understanding, determining the percentages by which to split the funds. The decision was based on how much T.O.T. revenue is generated in each fire department service area, as well as on call volume data. 

“It’s not an exact science,” Chief Weber said, “but we know how many calls are coming in, and where there are the most short-term rentals.” 

The memorandum allocates the lion’s share of the funds—38 percent—to Marin County Fire. Bolinas and Stinson Beach Fire Protection Districts will receive 17 percent each. The Inverness Volunteer Fire Department will get 14 percent; the Muir Beach Volunteer Fire Department, 8 percent; the Nicasio Volunteer Fire Department, 4 percent; and the Tomales Volunteer Fire Company, 2 percent. 

Though the draft memorandum has been finalized, it has not been formally approved by each fire department, Chief Weber said. 

To help explain the allocations beyond the calculated impacts to tourism, Chief Weber drew attention to the three types of fire departments in West Marin. Marin County Fire operates five of its six substations in coastal Marin—in Woodacre, Point Reyes Station, Hicks Valley, Tomales, and Throckmorton on Mount Tamalpais. There are also special fire districts like those in Inverness, Stinson Beach and Bolinas, which largely sustain their operations from property taxes. Lastly, there are volunteer departments like that in Nicasio, where some operational money is received through donations and some comes from Marin County Fire. 

As far as how the fire departments will spend the funds, Chief Weber said that most are still working it out with their respective boards of directors, though he said he anticipated new monies would go to expanded service and support for
volunteers.