Higgins Fire District board considers withholding payment to consultant after failed tax vote | TheUnion.com

Higgins Fire District board considers withholding payment to consultant after failed tax vote

The Higgins Fire District board is considering withholding payment from a consulting firm used in the failed fire protection vote, citing a suspected error by consultants that resulted in an opponent’s written argument going unanswered.

The board, facing firefighter layoffs in June because of the failed vote, suggested withholding $18,000 in payment to SCI Consulting Group. Director John Boykin questioned if the consultant made an error in the election timeline, which led to an argument against Measure V in a voter pamphlet having no rebuttal.

“I felt at some place we dropped the ball with rebuttals on the ballot,” Boykin said at the board’s Wednesday meeting. “For some reason, we didn’t get our rebuttal in.”

The August vote, the third attempt in as many years, would have repealed a 35-year-old $25 tax on residential parcels. A $141-per-parcel tax would have replaced it.

“I don’t think it’s been puppy dogs and ice cream for the past six months, 10 months…”George Morris IIICal Fire’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer unit chief

Supporters needed 66.7 percent of voters to approve the tax. They received only 59.16 percent.

Board Chairman Bruce Jones said officials would review the contract between the board and SCI Consulting Group.

“We will follow up on this at the next board meeting,” Jones added.

According to elections officials, a notice of election was published online and in The Union on June 10. In that notice it stated rebuttal arguments were due by 5 p.m. June 24.

A failure to answer an opponent, who claimed fire district employees could get paid more in retirement, wasn’t the only potential source of the failed vote, some directors said.

Director Alex Crawford said a Cal Fire/Higgins sign at the Combie Road station is confusing. Passersbys only see the Cal Fire symbol, a misrepresentation of the two entities’ relationship that Crawford said influenced the vote.

Both Crawford and director Donnie Militano pushed for a change to the sign, which the board later adopted pending final approval next month.

“I don’t think it’s been puppy dogs and ice cream for the past six months, 10 months,” said George Morris III, Cal Fire’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer unit chief, referencing conflict over the past several months between the board and firefighter staff. “Is this sign going to change that?”

Jones then suggested the board and Cal Fire use a third party and meet to discuss cooperation between the two groups.

In other matters, the board entered a closed-door session to discuss personnel. It took no action afterward.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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