Nearly a year after failing to secure voter approval of a tax increase, Higgins Fire Protection District will try again.
Higgins will seek to add $100 to annual property tax bills for the 90-square-mile area in south county via a May 7 special election — similar to the Measure B initiative that was placed on the June 5, 2012, Presidential Primary ballot.
In June, Higgins narrowly missed passing the 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 Higgins Fire Chief Jerry Good.
In July 2012, 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, which 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 in their current range.
The special election will be a mail-ballot-only election.
All ballots must be received by the county election office by 8 p.m. May 7.
In March 2012, Nevada County Consolidated Fire District’s special election to implement a fire tax passed, despite controversy regarding the legitimacy of the tax and the election process.
Approval of the measure garnered 68.5 percent of the total 9,826 validated votes cast, receiving 6,735 votes in favor to 3,091 votes against.
The tax measure added a $52 annual fee to the bill of an average residential dwelling, according to previous reports.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.