The Town of Ross is faced with a situation where officials not only have to go back to the drawing board, but they might have to build a new drawing board entirely.
During a Town Hall meeting last Thursday on Zoom, residents were asked two core questions:
Do you want to keep a fire station in Ross and how much are you willing to pay to keep a fire station in Ross?
Two different surveys have suggested that the public safety building, which currently houses police, fire and paramedics, is in such poor condition that it needs massive — and expensive — rehabilitation.
Town officials proposed rebuilding the fire station, along with police, paramedic quarters and administrative space for $28.4 million; or, eliminating the fire station and rebuilding a dedicated space for police, paramedics and administration for $14.6 million.
“This building is being held together almost by duct tape,” Ross Town Manager Joe Chinn said.
Photos of the public safety building, originally built in 1927, show severe water and termite damage, plaster falling off walls and ceilings, roof tiles falling off, and worse. The building does not comply with Essential Services Act requirements. The fire truck bays are below the 100-year flood water level, so trucks have to be parked outside the station during flood seasons.
The money raised for the project would come from a bond measure, requiring a two-thirds vote from residents. The cost is projected at $490 to $1,350 annually for 30 years.
Of the 627 calls for service to the Ross Fire Department during a two-year period, 259 were for medical issues and only three were for fires. Thirty calls were for service or public assistance.
Officials have options if the town decides not to keep a fire station in town. Ross is part of the Ross Valley Fire Department joint powers authority with San Anselmo, Sleepy Hollow and Fairfax. Ross could look to the other members of the JPA to provide fire services in town. Response time from San Anselmo is estimated to take close to 10 minutes, which is 2 minutes longer than the current average response time of the Ross Fire Department.
The Kentfield Fire Department could also respond to fires in Ross, and is closer than the San Anselmo Fire Department.
Participants, however, wanted other options and they directed their anger at Town Hall for not including residents more from the very beginning of the process. Residents asked their own questions about the estimated cost of the project and what would be included. Primarily, though, they wanted to know why they weren’t given the chance earlier to explore other ideas — expressing a mistrust of the Town Council.
Residents offered a variety of ideas, such as finding a new location in town for emergency services and perhaps turning the current property into low-income housing or a community center.
Residents asked if having no fire station in town would impact their home and fire insurance bills.
There are certainly arguments for keeping a fire station in town. One resident recalled being awoken by the sound of Ross firefighters arriving at his home during the night on Christmas Eve three years ago. It was then he realized there was a fire in his home. He did not even have time to complete a 911 call to report the fire before firefighters were on scene.
Would the results have been the same without a fire station in town? Or would the house have suffered greater damage?
There are a lot of questions to be answered before residents can even consider voting on a bond measure to fund the public safety building. A questionnaire about the project is expected to go out to the community on November 9.