Fire districts ponder tax measures |

Fire districts ponder tax measures

The Union StaffNevada County Consolidated firefighter Ehron Phillips washes the engine at Station 89 in Alta Sierra Wednesday.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Fire representatives gathered at the Elections Office Wednesday to get a primer on how to call for a new fire measure.

Realistically, a new fire tax could not be put on the ballot before this summer, fire officials were told. So far, no district has decided to pursue either a new fire tax or a benefit assessment.

Property owners who vote on assessments do not need to be registered voters.

The fire districts who sent representatives to the Elections Office included representatives from Rough and Ready, Higgins, Ophir Hill, Penn Valley, Nevada County Consolidated and the 49er fire protection districts.

Five fire districts lost a bid for revenue-increasing measures Nov. 5. Penn Valley voters rejected a fire tax two years ago that would have paid to staff a new fire station. The fire tax, if passed, would have allowed Penn Valley to staff its new fire station 24 hours a day. The new station is now slated to be staffed with volunteer firefighters.

George Mueller, chairman of the Penn Valley’s fire board of directors, said the possible fire tax could be discussed March 4. “I hope they go for it,” he said, referring to his fellow fire directors. “We’re going to have the fire station finished at the end of the month.”

To be successful, tax measures require a two thirds majority and a benefit assessments, a simple majority.

Hank Weston, a fire director with Penn Valley, said he would be more comfortable calling for a fire tax rather than an assessment. Once a need is articulated to the voters, he said, “people will tell you whether it is justified or not.”

“It’s the American way,” he said.

(Weston, a Lake Wildwood resident, is also Grass Valley’s fire chief.)

Frank Rowe, chief of the Higgins Protection Fire District, said his board has not discussed a new fire measure. “At some point, I’m sure we will,” he said after the meeting. “But we haven’t discussed at the board level.”

Wednesday’s session was a lot of good information, he said.

Lorraine Jewett-Burdick, county clerk-recorder, gave fire officials some money saving ideas for a special election for a fire tax. Estimated costs ranged from $3,050 for Rough and Ready to $15,380 for Nevada County Consolidated, her office estimated. The costs would be higher if the six fire districts did not call an election on the same day.

Rough and Ready has 752 registered voters and Nevada County Consolidated, 17,000, according to county records.

Josh Morris, a consultant with Shilts Consultants Inc. of Fairfield explained how assessments operate.

Each parcel owner would receive one ballot with the proposed assessment. “It’s not one person one vote,” he said. Assessment may only require a simple majority but the money cannot be spent on emergency medical services, he reminded the group.

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