Calaveras Enterprise

Murphys fire tax campaign launched

Most of the 20 people gathered at a recent Murphys Fire District meeting appeared to support or at least lean toward implementation of an annual parcel fee to support three new paid positions.

The proposed measure would raise $164,018 the first year by putting an $89 annual fee on improved parcels and $40 on unimproved lots.

The three people hired would rotate shifts so that one person is always on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

During emergency calls, the paid staffer would get the equipment and vehicles ready for the volunteers.

The rest of the time would be spent maintaining the facilities and equipment.

The proposal was presented to residents during a special Feb. 13 meeting. A formal public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 28 at the fire station in Murphys.

Even though the district has 20 volunteers, with another eight on the way, recruiting and retaining them is more difficult, Fire Chief Steve Kovacs said.

Training requirements have increased dramatically over the last several years. Volunteers must receive 20 to 25 hours of training each before answering their first call.

Meanwhile, family pressures have increased and many volunteers work out of the area during the day, necessitating the need for paid firefighters.

And the special fee is needed to fund the positions because property tax revenue is just split among too many recipients, Kovacs said.

By the time schools, the county, the city of Angels Camp, and all other special districts get their share, it doesn’t leave much, Kovacs said.

On a home with an assessed valuation of $300,000, the fire district gets $9.96 per year, he said.

The election will be held by mail, with ballots going out May 28. They would need to be returned to the county Elections Office by June 26.

It would require a two-thirds majority for approval.

Kovacs acknowledged there are some inadequacies in a parcel fee as well. The Murphys Diggins Mobile Home Park has about 180 residents, but they’re only on three parcels.

Not all of those at the Feb. 13 meeting favored the proposal.

“It sucks,” Mike Peccia said.

A 31-year resident of Murphys, Peccia said the cost was not worth what residents were getting.

The district’s response time is slow, and the chief gets paid too much money to work a part-time job, Peccia said.

“The public’s not getting a fair share with these guys,” he said.

Kovacs disputed Peccia’s claims.

Peccia said the chief is paid $36,000 a year. Kovacs said his salary is $26,400 a year, and is based on chiefs’ salaries in other districts in the county.

While his pay covers 20 hours a week, Kovacs said it’s not unusual for him to work 30 to 40 hours.

As for the response times, Kovacs asked, “Slow compared to what?”

While figures could not immediately be broken out for response times within the district, Murphys’ average response time on all calls, including mutual aid duties to other fire districts, is nine minutes.

“When it comes to volunteer organizations, we’re doing well with response times,” Kovacs said.

He estimated a paid staffer would improve that even more, shaving 30 seconds to a minute off their call times.

Other audience members at the meeting believed the parcel tax was necessary.

“I like it. I’m all for it,” said Ray Morris, a resident of Murphys Diggins.

He intended to schedule presentations by Kovacs at the Diggins and with the local Sons In Retirement group.

Many of Murphys surrounding districts already have paid staff members.

Ebbetts Pass, Angels Camp, and Central Calaveras district all have augmented their volunteer staffs with paid firefighters.

Anyone looking for more information on the parcel fee or the district in general may call the main firehouse at 728-3864.

Contact Craig Koscho at

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