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Fire Board Fights Back
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Looking to get back money that the state is taking away, members of the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District Board have voted to join in with the California Communities program.

"They're a Joint Powers Authority of special districts, local governments, cities and counties," Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello explained. "This has to do with Prop 1A, we're going to essentially get it (money) back."

Under California Communities, participating cities and districts will receive money that the state took from them under Proposition 1A, the 'rainy day fund' proposition. The state is taking money from local governmental agencies and special districts to help make up their shortfall, and now the California Communities is helping out those affected districts.

"California Communities will, in three years, collect it with two percent interest," Mello said of getting it back from the state. Under the proposition, the state was supposed to refund that money to the agencies and local governments, but now will instead pay it to California Communities.

Escalon Fire, like other participating agencies, will receive checks from California Communities in January and May, making up the amount taken by the state.

Escalon would have lost over $23,300 in this year's budget due to the state take. Now, they will get half of that in January and half in May through the California Communities and can budget accordingly.

Organized through the League of California Cities and the State Association of Counties, California Communities will bond for the money and distribute it throughout the state to those participating organizations.

"As of October 19, 1,306 agencies were enrolled in the program," Mello said of the participation. "They (California Communities) buy the bonds to secure the money and in three years, when the state would pay us, California Communities takes the (state's) money with the two percent interest."

Mello sees it as a win-win, since Escalon Fire will have access to the money now, when it is needed, and California Communities will get the money back, with interest, in a few years' time.

Board members met in specials session on Wednesday, Oct. 21 and approved the district's participation by a 4-0 vote. One board member was absent from the special meeting.

"This will keep our income the same so we don't have to cut services," said fire board chairman John Wright. "It's a good deal that helps our department and there are no drawbacks from the department standpoint."

With the money that the state is taking being paid back now by California Communities rather than in three years, Wright said the department can stay at the status quo, and not have to look for ways to cut costs.

He said the board was pleased with the efforts of Mello, investigating the program and presenting it to the board for review.

"There's good participation," Wright added. "The majority of districts and fire departments are doing this."

Mello said under the program, the department will receive its first payment on Jan. 15 and the second on May 3.

"In 2011 and 2012, we will be getting paid around the same time. We take that money and direct it back into our budget," he explained. "We will get $11,683.06 each time."

Nearly all fire departments and cities in San Joaquin County are joining in with the California Communities effort. Escalon City Council members, in fact, are slated to consider joining, with the issue slated for discussion at the Monday, Nov. 2 council meeting.