A special election for Higgins Fire District, which will decide the fate of a proposed tax measure, will conclude today, with results available around 9 p.m., according to election officials.
The fire district attempted to convince voters to agree to add about $100 to their annual property tax bills.
The money is slated to fund additional firefighters needed to improve response times and service to constituents in an approximately 90-square-mile area, said Higgins Fire Chief Jerry Good.
The election was entirely vote-by-mail and all ballots must be turned into the Nevada County Elections Office by 8 p.m., said Gail Smith, Nevada County Assistant Registrar of Voters.
Good said he felt a guarded sense of optimism as the election draws to a close, noting there has been vocal opposition to the measure in South County.
“There’s been some strong support, as well,” Good said.
In June 2012, Higgins narrowly missed passing a tax increase with 2,019 voters (61 percent) saying “Yes” and 1,284 voters (39 percent) saying “No,” according to the Nevada County Elections office. About half of the district’s registered voters participated, according to the Higgins website.
The measure needed two-thirds approval in order to pass.
The measure’s failure has had dire consequences for the department, according to Good.
In July, Higgins laid off six firefighters, representing a third of the department’s overall staff, meaning the district typically has four firefighters on call as opposed to six, Good said.
The department attempts to supplement the decrease in staff with volunteers, but those willing to donate time usually can only afford to do so outside of business hours.
Staff reductions have led to station closures, as the district’s three stations have been shuttered periodically in a cost-saving effort.
“The average response time has doubled, and in some remote areas, it has actually tripled,” Good said, adding his department took 30 minutes to respond to an early morning traffic accident that would have typically taken about 10 minutes.
“We received 123 more calls in 2012 than we did in 2011,” Good said.
There was no underlying cause for the spike in call volume, but the 14 percent increase added further strain to the department as it attempts to maintain service level with fewer resources.
Good acknowledged Higgins needs to work harder to sell the increase to the approximately 6,200 registered voters within the district’s jurisdiction.
The current assessment is $25 and would be raised to $125 if the measure is approved, Good said.
The chief said property owners in the district could see their fire insurance rates escalate by $200 a year if the response times stay locked at their current range.
Please stay tuned to theunion.com for updated results as they become available.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4239.