Higgins Fire Board: Measure V opposition not factual | TheUnion.com

Higgins Fire Board: Measure V opposition not factual

Higgins Fire District board members claim that arguments and statements that have been mailed out to registered voters are erroneous.
John Hart | The Union

A local group opposing the proposed Higgins Fire Protection District special fire tax, dubbed Measure V, misrepresented facts in a voter ballot and information pamphlet that was recently mailed out to registered voters by the Nevada County Elections Office, according to Higgins Fire officials.

“They are not factual,” Higgins Fire District spokesman Pete Marchinek told The Union. “I understand there are opinions both for and against every ballot measure, but as long as everything is true and factual, that’s what needs to take place.”

In June, the Higgins Fire District won approval from the county to hold a special election on a proposed new fire protection tax that, if approved by a two-thirds majority vote, would repeal a 35-year-old $25-per-parcel fire tax, and instead impose an average $141-per-residential-parcel special fire protection tax.

The special district election is being done by mail vote, and will be counted on Aug. 25. Ballots were mailed to district voters by the Nevada County Elections Office on July 28.

It is the third time Higgins has tried for a special tax recently — the last time, in 2014, it lost by only 29 votes.

On June 10, Nevada County Clerk-Recorder Gregory J. Diaz issued a public notice of election for Measure V, which included the requirements and submittal deadlines that any written arguments and rebuttals, for or against the measure, should meet in order to be included in the voter ballot.

Diaz said he received one argument in opposition of the measure penned by Wade Freedle, a member of the Citizens for Fair Fire Taxes, and one argument in favor, authored by Higgins Fire board members.

One rebuttal against the measure was also submitted, by Freedle and Eddie Garcia, another member of the opposing group.

Higgins Fire Board Chairman Bruce Jones recently sent a letter to local media outlets highlighting several instances where the arguments included in the voter ballot against Measure V were not factual, including a claim that Higgins Fire staff do not provide any medical function.

“In fact 50 percent of calls are for medical reasons,” Jones’ letter states. “… (Our) firefighters are often the first in, it’s why we are called ‘first responders.’ It is our EMT firefighters who provide the first medical aid, our firefighters are the (ones) who start CPR, and our firefighters are the ones continuing CPR in the ambulance.”

For the full letter, see Jones’ opinion piece on A4.

Citing election law, Diaz said that the elections office is prohibited from altering any argument or rebuttal, for or against a measure, that they receive.

“The materials that were sent to the voters are indeed correct and comply with election code,” he said. “If someone is upset, there is a court remedy that could be available to people, but outside of that people could consult their legal advisor if they feel we sent out misleading or incorrect information. But we didn’t.”

Initially reported by Yubanet, Citizens for Fair Fire Taxes, also recently sent postcards to registered voters that claimed, among other statements, that Higgins Fire does not provide emergency medical services because its fire personnel are not trained as emergency medical technicians.

Diaz confirmed that Freedle obtained Higgins Fire district voter addresses from the elections office for a $50 fee.

“The comments that were made and the postcard that was authored to the community members of our fire district stating that we do not use medical aid, that is not true,” Marchinek said. “All of our full-time firefighters are EMTs, and three-quarters of our paid-call firefighters and volunteers are EMTs as well.”

While Freedle said that his group may have been wrong in claiming that Higgins Fire personnel do not have emergency medical training, he added that the other arguments he and his group have disseminated to voters are factual.

Freedle adds that Jones’ claim that the special tax is not a parcel tax, but a flat rate special fire tax separate from a property tax, is disingenuous.

“I’m just a poor old country boy and I know if this passes, it’s going to be shown as a line item on my property tax statement,” Freedle said. “I think his response is generally anticipated because they have spun it from their direction and that’s what you expect in an election like this … Everything that could be classified as a fact, we are certainly ready to support 100 percent, and we’re ready to argue our verbal shadings of opinion.”

Garcia added, “We will all be taxed with a fire tax that is not coming back to our county. It seems to be going to the general fund of the state and not seeing the light of day for fighting fires on the local level.”

Marchinek said that Higgins Fire officials encourage a healthy debate on the measure, but emphasized that discussion needs to be based on the facts.

“As long as all the information is correct, and as long as it’s true and honest, that’s what needs to be portrayed,” Marchinek said. “They need to have their facts straight. We as a department encourage everyone to get educated on this ballot measure and vote accordingly.”

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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