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Olivehurst Fire gears up for 24-hour service with grant money

The hiring process has begun to bring the Olivehurst Fire Department back up to 24-hour service.

Along with voting to hire back one former captain in the same role, the Olivehurst Public Utility District's board of directors voted last week to open hiring for three additional captains.

OPUD General Manager Tim Shaw said the goal is to get those captains hired and on duty by early March, when the funding for the two-year Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant goes into effect.

"We want to have everything in place so we can flip the switch," Shaw said, explaining the two-year period to use the grant begins March 4, so the district wants to align it with having funding as closely as possible.

The grant of $739,000 comprises the means to pay for positions enabling the district to offer 24-hour fire protection, as it offered until about three years ago.

Service levels dropped after voters rejected tying a special-benefit assessment levied on property owners for fire service to inflation, and a court ruling called the assessment election a decade ago into question.

But Shaw said the discussion has already begun on how to keep the Fire Department at 24-hour service after the grant expires in 2015.

One possibility would be going back to voters for a special tax to keep the Fire Department's finances solvent, Shaw said.

The utility district could get a boost in that regard from a possible state ballot initiative, which voters could see next year, to lower the threshold for approving taxes to benefit public safety from a two-thirds percentage to 55 percent.

However, the last special benefit assessment election for Olivehurst's fire service, in 2011, only received 24 percent of the vote in a weighted ballot.

CONTACT Ben van der Meer at bvandermeer@appealdemocrat.com or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.


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