George Boardman: Is the fire tax proposal fried?


Most of the public officials and regular movers that populate our community seem to be on board with the passage of Measure V, which has become a hotter issue than you’d expect in our fire-prone area.

Measure V would increase the sales tax by half a percent to raise about $12 million a year to reduce our invasive vegetation, increase our ability to escape fires, and generally improve conditions for fighting fires. fires.

On the surface, you’d think it’d be a sure winner in a community where fire awareness is a priority and the sound of low-flying planes pumps up your adrenaline as you sniff the air and scan the sky for smoke. . It never occurred to me to always keep at least half a tank of gas in our cars until we moved here 22 years ago.

But Measure V is far from a sure winner as Election Day approaches, thanks in part to the measure’s structure, the economic downturn we’re experiencing, and the muted reading of community sentiment when the measure was created by the board of directors. Supervisors.

As a result, hardly anyone in a position of authority publicly supports the measure. City councils remained silent, influential organizations like the Chambers of Commerce, the County Contractors’ Association and the Grass Valley Downtown Association either signaled their opposition to the measure or fell silent when it came to supporting the issue .

Three of the four supervisors who voted to put the measure on the ballot have not said a word publicly since then, and the two candidates for the single seat currently on the ballot are either neutral or opposed to the proposal. . Even some of the Firewise communities agree to give up, saying the issue is “too political”.

This silence tells me that officials either don’t like the idea or they get a lot of static from their constituents. It makes you wonder who the supervisors and their underlings at the Rood Center spoke to before sending this measure out to voters.

Opposition or ambivalence to the measure is based on two factors: It’s a bad time to raise taxes, and there’s no guarantee that the money that will be collected will be used for the stated purpose.

Residents feel inflation every time they go to the grocery store or buy gas, and that will likely be followed by a recession as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to discourage spending and slow growth. job growth. In this environment, merchants do not like the idea of ​​collecting a higher tax from their customers.

In these $6 gas days, people are unlikely to come down the hill to save 50 cents on a $100 purchase. Instead, they’ll just have another reason to stop spending money.

Then there is the matter of ensuring that the money will be spent for the intended purpose. The money raised by Measure V will go into the county’s general fund, where supervisors can spend it on anything. As others have pointed out, supervisors and bureaucrats change, and so do county priorities.

This problem could have been solved by asking voters to pass a special tax, ensuring that the money would be spent on fire mitigation. But that would require a two-thirds vote of the population, and I suspect supervisors and other supporters of the measure made the political calculation that they couldn’t get two-thirds approval.

Proponents say the measure includes strong accountability: revenues will be placed in separate accounts, an annual audit will be published online, a citizens’ oversight committee will review revenues and expenses, and all contracts over 50,000 $ will have to be approved by supervisors and submitted for public approval. comment.

Finally, technical advisory committees made up of fire chiefs and other public officials will “regularly review what we need and make recommendations to the board on where the money should be spent,” Susan wrote. Rogers of Grass Valley, an active member of the Firewise. Communities since 2017.

“I believe Measure V’s revenue and expense will be the most watched money in Nevada County history,” she wrote on YubaNet. “This scrutiny is how you can feel confident that the promised spending will actually happen.”

Yet it is difficult to overcome voters’ growing mistrust of the people they elect. Then there’s the fear of local firefighters worrying that voters will think the money will go to county fire districts, making it harder for firefighters to fundraise in the future.

Clayton Thomas, writing on behalf of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3800, points out in an essay published in The Union and YubaNet that Measure V should be called a “vegetation mitigation tax” because “it does not won’t pay for a firefighter. Or a fire truck, Or even a hose.

At this point, you could say that’s what you expect from the union representing local firefighters: they always want more money to hire more firefighters who will become members of their union.

But Thomas points out that most of our fire districts are already underfunded, operating “at 50% of the national staffing recommendation, increasing the time it takes to have an adequate firefighting force on scene.” .

The US Occupational Health and Safety Administration requires four firefighters to be on scene before entering a burning building, but most local engines are staffed with two people, Thomas said. “…so they may not be able to get in until another mover arrives from a nearby agency,” he wrote. “Structural fires are doubling in size every minute. You do the math”

Residents have been reluctant to properly fund our local fire districts, and as anyone involved with Firewise communities can tell you, many local residents do not take fire mitigation seriously.

As we face a rare LaNina triple dip this winter (meaning little rain) and state authorities try to stop insurance companies from voiding our fire insurance, are we prepared to pass measure V despite its shortcomings? The alternative is really scary.

George Boardman lives in Nevada City. His column is published every two weeks on Tuesdays by The Union. Email him at [email protected]


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