Featured Voices, Yreka

Letter to Editor: Yreka Fire Department, SMOKE & MIRRORS – Not Safety

** Response from Yreka City Manager, Jason Ledbetter at bottom of letter. **

To the Editor,
The Yreka Fire Department is a tinderbox, and the City Council is waving a lighter. Don’t get me wrong, I support a tax increase to bolster fire services – if we knew where the money was going. But right now, the City Council and Manager are asking residents to take a blind leap of faith.

Here’s the grim reality: YFD is staffed by only a handful of dedicated volunteers, a fraction of the number listed on the roster per statements made by the city manager. The department responds to nearly 2,000 calls each year. We’re expected them to be heroes with a skeleton crew and a fire station older than my grandmother! This isn’t heroism; it’s insanity. Expecting volunteers to be firefighters, mechanics, and janitors for a crumbling building is an insult. Paid firefighters and EMS are a necessity, not a debate point.
But what problem are we actually solving? City data shows a staggering 85-90% of calls are EMS related, not fires. Our dedicated volunteers are burning out, stretched thin responding to a constant barrage of medical emergencies. This proposed tax increase – where will it go? Will it hire more firefighters or will we see dedicated EMS personnel to handle the overwhelming medical call volume? Or are we just throwing money at a problem without a clear strategy?

This lack of transparency goes beyond the YFD. Recently, the City Council and Manager proposed a near 9% increase in water/sewer utility rates. Public outcry forced them to back down, but the initial proposal raises serious concerns. Adding to the smoke and mirrors, the city quietly renamed Greenhorn Park to Greenhorn Reservoir and placed its maintenance under the water fund. This likely freed up general fund tax dollars previously allocated to park upkeep. So, when they propose a general tax increase that includes funding for parks, it feels like a bait and switch. Residents deserve to know where their hard-earned money goes. This isn’t just about money; it’s about transparency and accountability. Residents deserve a clear plan, not smoke and mirrors. Show us a roadmap for rebuilding a reliable, well-equipped fire department that addresses the specific needs of our community. Tell us how this tax increase will translate into improved response times, better communication with EMS providers, and ultimately, better care for our residents.

Shame on you, City Council and Manager, for putting our lives at risk with your lack of transparency. Let’s see a concrete plan, not another empty promise disguised as a tax increase.

A tax increase is absolutely necessary to pay for these needed and MANDATED services. However, there needs to be more to it than asking for a general increase with no structured plan for how the funds will be used. Will a general tax truly be allocated where the residents want it? I find it incredulous that voters are being asked to write a blank check to the city to use the funds as they see fit under the guise of funding for the fire department. We deserve a detailed breakdown of how this money will directly translate into a safer Yreka, with a well-staffed and well-equipped fire department that can effectively respond to all emergencies, fires and medical alike.

Sincerely,
A Furious Yreka Resident


Responce:

The Yreka Volunteer Fire Department has in fact been dealing with an excessive amount of call volume upward of 2000 calls per year. The reality over the last 30 years is that the call volume increase is directly attributable to an increase in medical calls for service. During the last 30 years the department has also had to deal with a decrease in volunteers and a decrease in active volunteers to deal with these increases. City administration staff held multiple meetings over the last 24 months at the Yreka Community Center for the Fire Ad Hoc Committee. At these meetings, that were publicly noticed, we included CalFire, YFD staff and volunteers, 2 council members, the Siskiyou County District Supervisor, Hospital Staff, Karuk Emergency staff, Madrone Hospice staff, County OES staff, State OES staff, South Yreka Fire Chief, Montague Fire Chief, etc, and 2 major action items were determined as solutions for the issues at the Yreka Volunteer Fire Department. The first is the need to bring on some level of paid staff to mitigate the need of volunteers to respond to medical calls at the volume they are currently responding. The second solution was to replace the 90-year-old Fire Hall.

The plan that has been put together has led City staff and the Yreka Fire Chief to work with Nichols, Melburg & Rossetto Architects to design and site a new Fire Hall. As presented in the presentation that the Fire Chief and City Manager have given to the City Council and multiple non-profits, the current cost to build a fire hall in California is $1,000 per square feet. We are currently looking at a design of about 17,000 square feet resulting in a $17 million dollar cost for Capital Improvement. City staff has reported in our presentation to Council and non-profits that our Bond Counsel has helped developed a debt servicing strategy with our desired intention of a USDA 40 year loan with the rate around 3.875%. The debt servicing of a facility between $15 million and $23 million would be an annual payment of $750k to $1.12 million for a 40-year loan.

As presented at City Council many times over the last 4 months and around the community with non-profits the City of Yreka is working to develop a work schedule with paid staff that would mitigate the busiest call volume response times for our volunteers. We are still engaging other similar fire departments as to the best approach. Recently I met with the Anderson California Fire Chief to discuss staffing with a budget of about $1 million. We are currently looking at the possibility of 24 hour coverage with a 48 hour work shift and 4 days off. City staff along with the Fire Chief are continuing to meet with other Fire Departments around the state to best determine what a partial paid department organizational chart should look like for the City of Yreka Fire Department.

As pointed out by the concerned citizen this issue is extremely serious and one that has been building over the last 3 decades. The City Council and City staff have had multiple publicly noticed Fire Ad Hoc meetings, presented the issues to the City Council over the last 6 months, and met with many non-profit groups in the last 3 months to educate them on the issues at the Yreka Volunteer Fire Department. The Council has voted to place a ballot initiative on the November ballot for a general sales tax increase and they have done that with the input of the Yreka Fire Chief and input from the Yreka Volunteer Fire Staff. The intention of City Staff is to educate the public on the reality of these issues, and it will be truly up to the public on whether funding a solution is a value the public determines to be a priority.  

We certainly welcome participation and encourage members of the public to voice their opinions about this and any other issues during public comment at 6:30pm the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month at Yreka City Hall. I also encourage any member of the public that has questions about this topic or any other City business to come down to City Hall and schedule a meeting with me or email me at [email protected] or call the general office line at 530-841-2386 and ask for Jason Ledbetter.

Jason Ledbetter​
City of Yreka | City Manager
701 4th Street, Yreka, Ca 96097
(530) 841-2386


2 Comments

  1. Lorenzo Love

    Why can’t we trust the Yreka City Council with our tax dollars?
    In the not too distant past, a now former Councilmember was dead set on the City building an extravagant aquatic park that would have bankrupted the City. As there was little appetite for the public to pay for this, how to get the money? She came up with the idea of a sales tax increase for the Fire Department. Who could turn down the Fire Department? Except it was for the Fire Department in name only. Sales tax goes into the General Fund, which the City Council can use for anything they want, without the public voting on it. The plan was for a token amount to go to the Fire Department but the vast bulk going to the aquatic park. But the plot was found out, publicized, and squashed. You’re welcome. 
    That Councilmember is no longer on the Council but three Councilmembers who were passively going along with the plot are still on the Council.
    Now the City Council says we need a sales tax increase for the Fire Department, all of which will go into the General Fund, which the City Council can use for anything they want. Trust us, they say, we will only use it for the Fire Department, would we lie to you?
    Yes, they would. As we have seen with the utility rate increase, this City Council will not hesitate to lie to us.
    The Council now is planning on building a new City swimming pool. How to pay for it?
    I’m not saying they plan on diverting the sales tax money to a pool, but they could. So could any future City Council. They have already told us all the other things besides the Fire Department that they plan on spending the money from a general tax on. General sales tax money always goes into the General Fund where it can be used at the discretion of the City Council. Maybe we can trust this City Council, (I don’t, I’ve been lied to too many times) but can we trust the next one? Or the one after that? Or the one twenty years from now? This general sales tax increase is forever, forever inflationary, forever redressive, forever harming Yreka retailers, forever at the discretion of the City Council to use for anything they what to use it for. ANYTHING. FOREVER.

  2. Y.F.D went to the new housing project called Siskiyou Crossroads and damaged private property. They had no authority to encroach onto that property/. Now who is gonna pay for reparations ? Maybe it should come out of Y.F.D. budget.

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