Measure Praised by Ripon Fire District Stirs Up Controversy

RIPON -- The Ripon Fire District is not run by the city it serves, so it does not get city money.

Instead, it’s financed by a small part of the property tax and a square footage assessment that hasn’t changed in over 30 years.

"So, basically, you could say we’ve not had an increase in income since 1985," said Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters.

While the fire district has three stations built with restricted state funds, it cannot afford to staff them. One station with four firefighters and a supervisor covers 56 square miles and two of them are assigned to its one ambulance, which is frequently out of the station.

"Our staffing’s cut in half during that time," Bitters said. "So now we're down to two people on a fire engine to cover all of that."

It’s no wonder that Measure A was put on the ballot, assessing property owners a $125 tax that raises $1.2 million, enough to staff a second station that now sits unused.

"We believe that's unfair," said Cindy Scheublein, the executive director of Bethany Home.

The opposition is coming from Bethany Home, a senior citizen living facility that provides 290 affordable living quarters throughout the district for seniors.

Measure A assesses the nonprofit run by the Christian Reformed Church at $250 per unit. That’s because the facility accounts for 18 percent of the fire ambulance calls, even though it represents one percent of the population.

But Bethany Home says the costs will be passed on or service staff will have to be cut.

"We’re here for seniors and we want to provide services and also affordable housing for them," Scheublein said.

The argument is not lost on Measure A supporters. The fire district gave a commitment to lower the Bethany Home assessment.

"The resolution exists, changing it to 125 and that would, if the measure is successful, that would be passed," Bitters said.

But that doesn’t persuade opponents.

"That will be on the books. So any agreement made before the election may not hold weight afterwards," Scheublein said.

Measure A supporters say the situation has reached critical mass with lives and property being put at risk.

"When that next call comes in you may or may not get a response in a timely manner," Bitters told FOX40.

A two-thirds vote is a big ask but about 10 years ago a similar measure failed by just 14 votes. Fire officials are hoping the results will be different this time around.