North Tahoe Fire Protection District looks to annex Meeks Bay Fire; Both agencies support the move

Sara Jackson / Special to the Tribune
Meeks Bay Fire Protection District.
Rob Galloway/Tahoe Daily Tribune

TAHOMA, Calif. – While the North Tahoe Fire and Meeks Bay Fire Protection Districts have been in contract for more than a decade, there has been a years-long push to annex Meeks Bay Fire into North Tahoe Fire. 

North Tahoe Fire Protection District (NTFPD) covers everything from the state line in Crystal Bay, all the way down to the El Dorado County line on the west shore, and then up a little way to Alpine Meadows. Station 67 in Meeks Bay Fire, located in El Dorado County covers Sugar Pine Point State Park, General Creek Campground, which is part of Sugar Pine and D.L. Bliss State Park, and then just about all the way down to Emerald Bay, to the Falls.

North Tahoe Fire and Meeks Bay Fire have been operationally consolidated since 2014.  Meaning that when someone calls 911, they have the fire trucks and paramedics show up at their door, either from North Tahoe or Meeks Bay.  All the employees are North Tahoe Fire Protection District employees.  So, when someone calls 911, they get the same level of services no matter where they are in the district.  It’s basically one big district operationally. 

So, what does the annexation of the two districts mean for the community?   

According to Edward Miller, President of the Board of Directors for Meeks Bay Fire, “There will be absolutely no difference in services, because right now, we’re being serviced by North Tahoe Fire.  So, whether the engine, or the back of the turnout coat says Meeks Bay Fire or North Tahoe Fire, it’s still North Tahoe firefighters and paramedics.” 

The headquarters station of Meeks Bay Fire District is staffed by North Tahoe firefighters.  There are people that think that when annexation is complete, there won’t be a Meeks Bay Fire station anymore. There has been a Meeks Bay station since 1967, and there will continue to be one after the annexation.  Those working at the Meeks Bay Fire Station have been working for North Tahoe Fire under the contract so that station will not lose personnel, response times, or apparatus.  Everything will stay the way it’s been for the last 13 years under the contract. 

The potential unification of Meeks Bay Fire with North Tahoe Fire has been on the NTFPD’s board agenda since August 2018.  The annexation of the two districts was supposed to happen towards the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023.  It is currently in the hands of Placer and El Dorado county’s chief negotiators and LAFCo (Local Agency Formation Commission office), which consists of two staff members from each county responsible for negotiating the final process of the annexation. 

There have been 24 different items that the North Tahoe Fire Protection District and Meeks Bay Fire Protection District have taken care of, in order to get this plan rolling.  From December 7-8, 2021, they first had to get Board resolutions from both Boards, saying that both Boards wanted to do this.  Letters of support were received on December 20, 2021. 

“We had a plan for the services that we needed to get done. We’d had multiple fiscal analyses, one from AP Triton. We filed the application for LAFCo on August 31, 2022.  We determined what the Board makeup was going to look like with the combined district, and had resolutions, both approved by both Boards.  So, we think that we’re at a point now where we’ve done everything we’ve possibly can, and now it’s basically in El Dorado County’s hands on what they want this to look like going forward,” explains Steve Leighton, Fire Chief for both North Tahoe Fire and Meeks Bay Fire Protection Districts. 

If this was a single county situation, the process would be going much smoother.  Part of the problem is that Placer County does not have any responsibility toward paying any of Meeks Bay’s liabilities.  If Meeks Bay was located within Placer County, then the county could take responsibility.  But Placer County does not want to take responsibility for Meeks Bay’s unfunded liabilities such as retired employees.   

At this point, El Dorado is not wanting to either. The unfunded liabilities are currently about $2.5 million. One of the things the county is saying is, why should the taxpayers throughout the county take responsibility for the Meeks Bay Fire Protection District? 

“And our answer to that is, we serve not only the people who pay taxes within our district, but we serve an enormous amount of people from out of our district more than we serve in our district.  So, all the people that come to the state parks, all the people that are traveling through, all the people that get lost in the woods, have to be rescued.  All of the accidents on the highway caused by people from other places, including parts of El Dorado County.  So, when people come to South Lake Tahoe or Meyers, or any of the other parts of the South Shore, El Dorado County, they don’t just stay down there.  They come up to Sugar Pine Point State Park, they come up to Emerald Bay, Tahoe City, and pass through to the Meeks Bay District,” adds Miller. 

Meeks Bay Fire is funded by property taxes and by voter approved benefit assessments and special taxes. So, if the annexation were to go through, the special taxes and benefit assessments in the Meeks Bay District would have to be equalized with those currently charged to those in the North Tahoe District so that everyone in the “new” District would be paying the same.  

According to Miller, “this would amount to about $75/per parcel less for Meeks Bay Fire property owners than they currently pay.” 

“So, what we’re trying to do here is, we’re trying to be as efficient as we possibly can, and it’s really hard to be efficient when you have two board meetings that our staff need to prepare for and attend. We have two separate budgets that we need to prepare for and make sure we’re doing the right thing. We have two audits, and everything we do, we double.  So, our efficiency in operation right now is not overly efficient,” adds Leighton. 

The annexation of the two districts is a couple years in the making but Meeks Bay and North Tahoe Fire Protection districts need El Dorado County’s help to get them across the finish line.   

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