To some, Martis Valley is a dream, and residents there lead a lifestyle of the rich and the famous most will never reach.
To the Truckee Fire Protection District, Martis Valley is a void of money.
Roughly 65% of TFPD’s 2018/19 finalized budget income derives from ad valorem property taxes (ad valorem is the assessed value of a property). Zero percent of the nearly $8 million in the budget comes from select parts of Martis Valley, see map below, yet the fire district is responsible for servicing them. In a strange twist that’s been the bane for many for a long time, the money collected for fire services from residents there goes to Placer County … and stays there.
Quick history lesson: Back in 1978, Proposition 13 was passed, limiting property tax rates to a hardy 1% of the homes’ assessed value in 1976 and creating a permanent pie of distribution rates for special districts.
Pre-Prop 13, the fire district had made an agreement with the sole landowner out in Martis Valley to pay taxes on the then-ranch land only once development began. Assembly Bill 8, which enacted Prop 13, dictated how much each district was owed in property taxes. The fact that TFPD was only receiving property tax revenue on developed land set in stone a reduced taxable section in Martis Valley, creating a “No Pay Tax Rate Area (TRA).”
“That was a surprise to everybody — attorneys, Supreme Court — nobody saw that coming, that it was going to affect us,” said TFPD Chief Bill Seline. “We sort of got caught in this little technical red tape piece in Martis Valley that didn’t allow us to continue to collect taxes there.”
To make a very, very long story short: Between Prop 13 and AB-8, there have been assumptions on both sides. The fire district didn’t follow through when it should have, the county made promises it didn’t fulfill — for example, and according to Seline, back in 1997, county staff told the then-fire chief that Martis Valley should’ve been included in AB-8 calculations, and that it’d be rectified; it wasn’t. Certainly, lessons have been learned, but it doesn’t erase the fact that other TFPD taxpayers are essentially subsidizing the fire district’s Martis Valley services.
Seline wanted to make abundantly clear that Martis Valley residents aren’t in the wrong.
“The reality is, remember, they’re paying the 1% ad valorem tax,” said Seline. “What the problem is, it goes to the county and the county has no legal obligation to distribute that to Truckee Fire.”
In fact, folks in Martis Valley themselves were surprised that some residents’ property taxes weren’t going to the fire district.
“The fact that Lahontan [off Snowshoe Thompson Circle] is being taxed and the monies are not making its way to the entity for which the purpose of those taxes are being collected, that’s bothersome,” said Jeff Cobain, general manager of the Lahontan Community Association.
The TFPD would be receiving approximately $3 million in Martis Valley ad valorem tax. That’s a decent chunk of change to any special district, and Seline initially assumed asking the county to return the money would be the simple answer “because they’re good people.”
Well, it’s not that they’re not good people, it’s Prop 13: Placer County has no legal or moral obligation to return the money. If the county gives money to the TFPD, it’s opening a Prop 13-sized can of worms.
At the TFPD’s darkest moment, however, local taxpayers involved with a citizens committee aiming to rectify the No Pay TRA concern came to the rescue. In researching behind-the-scenes tax distribution, they found a bite-sized option for funding fire services there. “Of your 1% ad valorem, 1.88% … goes to this thing called fire control,” Seline said. That funding goes to Placer Fire, which is managed by Cal Fire and provides general fire services to the west side of the Sierra. (Truckee’s Cal Fire station is an Amador Station, meaning it’s brought online during wildfire season and is state funded, aka not ad valorem tax funded.)
Thus, another meeting with the county supervisors with renewed vigor.
The TFPD, according to Seline, wants “a portion of the fire control fees that are collected up in the Martis Valley to come back to Truckee Fire to support fire services. And right now … a 40/60 split [40 to the fire district] is what we’re proposing.”
It’s a tax sharing agreement, explained Todd Leopold, Placer County executive officer. Placer County doesn’t normally create tax sharing agreements unless a service change requires it, which held back the fire district’s previous requests.
However, Leopold explained that at this new meeting, the fire district was more up front about needed amounts — that, paired with the new fire-control fee proposal, furthered the conversation more than ever.
Now the question remains: If a portion of the fire control money is given to the TFPD, how will the county subsidize the amount they lose? That’s what Leopold is making sure the county Board of Supervisors are well-versed in.
“My intent right now is to bring forward the request from a staff standpoint,” said Leopold. “We’ll articulate the impact operationally and give the board a couple options to choose from.”
The TFPD’s portion of the 1.88% will round out to $150,000 to $200,000 a year with the possibility of growing to $400,000 over time.
The citizens committee that’s been involved with the process since the beginning is looking on the bright side.
“Well it’s pennies on the dollar,” said Pat Davison, a member of the committee. “[But] obviously something’s better than nothing.”
So, next steps. The topic is on the July 23 agenda before the Placer County Board of Supervisors. Leopold said there’s no actual requirement for the board to say yes; it’s a policy decision on their part whether they’ll choose to entertain it or not.
RELATED STORY: A Tale of Too … Many Special Districts