Voters nix most fire taxes
Persistence paid off for the Nevada City Fire Department, the only fire district to get a tax hike approved Tuesday by voters.
More than the needed two-thirds of the city’s voters backed tripling their annual fire tax from $12 to $36. The extra money will go toward hiring a third full-time firefighter, giving the city round the-clock staffing.
At the same time, it appears measures were rejected in five other districts – Nevada County Consolidated, 49er, Higgins, Ophir Hill and Rough and Ready. In Penn Valley, where a simple majority was needed, voters overwhelmingly approved increasing the district’s spending limit.
Nevada City Fire Chief Greg Wasley couldn’t readily explain why other districts’ measures failed. But his department learned from its own failure in 2000. This time, full-timers and volunteers went door-to-door, mailed flyers, and advertised more vigorously.
“Last time, I think we assumed it would pass. We didn’t expect opposition,” he said. “This time we were proactive. If we did have opposition, we talked to the people.”
In the neighboring 49er district, Battalion Chief David Ray said Nevada City probably benefitted from asking for the smallest hike. Forty-niner was seeking an increased assessment of residential lots from $59 to $113 annually.
The 49er district had hoped to put a second firefighter at its main station, allowing it to instantly drive an engine to an emergency.
“If it’s back to a single-person response, then we wait for the volunteer” to arrive at the station, Ray said.
He and Tim Fike, Consolidated’s chief, held out slim hope that absentee votes would put their measures over the top.
“Obviously, there’s some potential. It’s that close,” Fike said.
Consolidated had a contentious assessment pass in 1997, and was trying to replace it Tuesday with a measure that would raise the annual assessment on residential lots from $30 to $50.
Although the current assessment doesn’t expire until 2006, Fike said the new measure was essential for better planning. If absentee votes don’t provide a boost, his district might go to the voters in another two years.
The Higgins Fire Protection District in the south county sought to triple its annual residential tax of $25, the cost since 1980, to boost staffing at two of its three stations.
The lone all-volunteer district, Rough and Ready, asked voters for money it planned to set aside for anticipated equipment purchases.
Ophir Hill, geographically the county’s smallest district, emerged as the most contentious, where former chief Jeff Wagner was among three people seeking two seats on the board of directors.
His bid failed, as did Measure J, which sought money to hire full time firefighters. Just days before the election, Wagner, who resigned in 2000, claimed the measure’s wording was flawed in such a way that district couldn’t legally collect a dime. In the end, voters rejected it anyway.
Penn Valley’s district stood apart from the other six in its request. It didn’t seek a tax hike, but rather permission to spend the money it collected beyond its $185,000 limit under Proposition 13, according to business manager Barbara Faletti.
“We appreciate that people understand what this measure does in allowing us to provide the level of service we provide our residents,” she said.
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