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May 7, 2013
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Voters say no to Higgins Fire measure

Higgins Fire District Chief Jerry Good was the picture of disappointment as he stood in the Nevada County Elections Office moments after learning Measure O was defeated by a mere 27 votes.

“It’s extremely painful,” he said.

The measure, which needed approval of 66.7 percent of voters, received 1,882 yes votes (65.5 percent) and 985 no votes (34.36 percent).

About 2,867 of the 6,362 registered voters (45.1 percent) eligible to cast ballots in the election voted. An estimated 12,000 residents are covered by Higgins Fire.

The measure would have added $100 to most property tax bills of voters within the 90-square-mile area of South County covered by the district.

Good argued the money was necessary to hire back six firefighters laid off last June and staff a station that is closed as a result.

“Higgins Fire will endeavor to provide the best service to our constituents in South County,” he said. “I just hope they understand that our response times have doubled and we are facing a serious fire season.”

Earlier this week, Cal Fire issued a news release saying the agency has responded to 1,100 wildfires so far in 2013, representing 500 more than average for this time of year.

“The conditions right now are what we should be experiencing in June,” said Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott.

According to the state’s final snow survey on May 2, the statewide snowpack water content is only 17 percent of normal.

From January through May 2, nearly 23,000 acres have burned in California, which is significantly more than the 1,250 acres that had burned in the same time period last year.

Good said the measure’s failure will not lead to further cutbacks to staff or discretionary spending, although revenue streams, garnered primarily through property taxes, are not guaranteed to increase or even stay static. The cutbacks enacted last June resulted in a reduction of the number of staff available per day (from six to four firefighters) to keep service running around the clock seven days a week. The reduction has also meant station closures.

Higgins Fire has three stations, and while it keeps Higgins Station 21 (the district’s flagship station at the intersection of Highway 49 and Combie Road) open permanently, it rotates monthly closures at its outlying posts — Dog Bar Station 22 at the intersection of Dog Bar Road and Morning Sun Lane and McCourtney Road Station 23 at the intersection of McCourtney and Lime Kiln roads.

Station closures increase response times — the average response time was six and half minutes prior to the July layoffs and has since spiked to 12 minutes — and leave residents vulnerable if two or more emergencies transpire simultaneously, Good said in February.

The rotation will be in effect for the foreseeable future, Good said. Higgins will have additional coverage responsibilities, as development in South County has picked up with the recent approval of Rincon Del Rio and increased activity with two previously approved developments — Cascade Crossing and DarkHorse.

Tuesday’s special election marks the second consecutive year Higgins Fire has attempted and failed to increase property taxes by $100.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email Color/RTF r39 g0 or 530-477-4239. 

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The Union Updated May 8, 2013 10:40AM Published May 9, 2013 11:26PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.