Where: Rough and Ready, Nevada County, California

Problem: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the local fire department’s financial stability.

Solution: RCAC helped the fire district meet its critical financial obligations with loans totaling $300,000.

Rough and Ready firehouseRough and Ready is an unincorporated census-designated place in Nevada County, California, with an estimated population of 905 people. The community was first settled during the 1849 gold rush and named after the Rough and Ready Mining Company. Land use is primarily rural-residential with some local commercial use. Home-based entrepreneurs, self-employed professionals, retirees and those who commute to Grass Valley, Nevada City and Beale Air Force Base support the local economy.

Rough and Ready Fire Protection District (RRFPD) was established informally in 1963 and officially in 1967 as a volunteer fire department serving a 9.5-square-mile area. Various revenue sources support operations. RRFPD began planning and fundraising for a new fire station in 2004. As part of its mission to provide financial resources to essential rural community services, Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) provided a construction loan and a 10-year permanent loan to RRFPD. Construction commenced in 2010 and was completed in 2012.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 and associated response measures profoundly disrupted RRFPD. The new conditions brought on by the lockdown overwhelmed the district board and administration while existing funding sources proved insufficient to meet critical financial obligations. Firefighters also grew concerned about their safety, job security and the district’s emergency response capacity. Furthermore, the suspension of in-person meetings effectively halted communication between the district board, administration and fire chief. As COVID-19 loosened its grip on the country, the board regrouped and took steps to address the district’s finances.

In June 2021, the city onboarded a new district administrator, Carole J. Bryant, who joined the recently hired chief and newly-formed board committees to implement procedures and protocols to improve the district’s financial health. RRFPD applied for a $300,000 loan from RCAC to pay past-due payroll tax liabilities and other COVID-related expenses. RCAC volunteered to fund part of the request with a $25,000 loan from RCAC’s Re-Emerging Loan Fund (RELieF). RCAC established the fund for small businesses needing low-interest loans to help them adapt to the prolonged economic hardships of the pandemic. A specialized coaching program is provided alongside the loan to increase the borrower’s long-term stability.

The $275,000 term loan and $25,000 RELieF loan enabled RRFPD officials to pay off payroll tax and other liabilities. The district continues to face mounting financial challenges inherited from prior administrations. In September, RRFPD formed a committee with the neighboring Penn Valley Fire Protection District to explore consolidating the two adjacent fire districts. As a result of the district’s continuing financial hardships, RCAC fully forgave the RELieF loan in July 2022.

“The process went very smoothly and quickly,” said RRFPD board chair Sheridan Loungway. “[RCAC] showed a genuine sense of urgency and professional courtesy and understood our critical needs. Keep doing what you’re doing; it works!”