Matthew Renda

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March 8, 2012
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Fire tax measure approved

Ultimately, the voters spoke - and they said yes.

Nevada County Consolidated Fire District's special election to implement a fire tax has passed, garnering 68.5 percent of the total 9,826 validated votes cast, according to an unofficial count released Thursday afternoon.

The special tax received 6,735 votes in favor to the 3,091 votes against.

There was a palpable sense of relief among fire district officials once the announcement was made at Station 84.

"We are very pleased that we were successful," Fire Chief Tim Fike said. "This was a critical public safety issue and we're pleased that we will be able to provide the same service levels to our constituents."

Fire district board member David Hanson agreed.

"I want thank everybody that helped us from all sectors of the community," he said.

The fire district's tax measure election was marred by procedural errors, miscommunication and perceptions of impropriety.

Concerns were raised soon after the ballots started arriving in the mail. Some residents were alarmed to see their vote visible through the sealed envelope. Even though the ballot envelope says it will be, "opened only by canvassing board," the "Yes" and "No" bubbles are clearly visible through the bottom of the envelope, meaning a ballot could be viewed without being opened.

Some ballots have been returned to sender, after being routed through Sacramento. Nevada City resident Bonnie McGuire said her ballot came back as undeliverable. McGuire eventually hand-delivered her ballot to the Grass Valley Post office.

The additional measure will help close what officials say is an expected $500,000 budget shortfall.

Estimates predict the tax measure will add a $52 annual fee to the bill of an average residential dwelling, according to district officials.

Thursday, the League of Women Voters conducted the final tabulation with the oversight of McSweeney and Associates, who delivered the ballots to the station. The ballots were counted by 19 League volunteers at Station 84 in Nevada City.

"I can't speak to the whole election, but what occurred here was absolutely above board," said Voter Service Employee Ruth Schwartz. "It was a long day but it was efficient."

The ballots, which were kept at the Grass Valley office of McSweeney & Associates, CPA, overnight, were delivered to the station by Darlene Bennett, board secretary for the fire district and a Fire Marshall.

Once unlocked, the ballots were filtered through a machine that opened the envelopes and volunteers removed the ballots from the envelopes and placed them in two separate piles. Once the ballots were amassed, they were counted and recounted at every stage, Schwartz said.

The results will not be official until the fire district board accepts the results during the Thursday, March 15 board meeting.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call (530) 477-4239.

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The Union Updated Mar 8, 2012 07:45PM Published Mar 8, 2012 07:43PM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.