Brian Hamilton: Far past time to support South County firefighters
Sitting in line at the traffic light on the way to school Monday morning, the “NO on Measure I” sign drew a sigh.
“The cost of making that sign just might total the same amount that person actually paid for fire service this year,” I told my daughter.
That’s what we in Higgins Fire Protection District have been paying to protect our single-family dwellings — since 1980.
Like, totally, we’ve been getting quite a deal.
Or have we?
Truth is because we’ve failed to approve an increase to our assessment since Blondie was rockin’ a trio of top 10 hits (don’t blame me, I lived in Indiana at the time … and was 8 years old) we’ve actually seen a decrease in service level and an increase in response times with the 2016 closure of the district’s Dog Bar station.
The district has failed three times in the past decade to get voters to approve a tax increase. “Failed” doesn’t tell the whole story though, as the majority of voters, 59.2%, approved an increase in 2015, as well as 65.6% in 2013 and 61.2% in 2012.
It takes two-thirds of the vote — 66.6% — for approval. The 2013 election was particularly tough to take, falling less than 30 votes short.
Look, I get the “taxed enough already” thinking. There’s ample examples of government digging deeper into our pockets with little to show for it — especially with the state of California’s return on investment for us rural folk.
But a kneejerk “NO” on new taxes is so shortsighted when it comes to our local fire department.
Considering the devastating wildfires we’ve seen throughout the state — and particularly close to home in Paradise — in recent years, many of us fortunate enough to retain fire insurance for our homes have seen increases far beyond what the $240 our local fire department is seeking. And while that reality might be inevitable with insurance companies around the state shedding risk in the wake of such blazes, longer response times from the local fire department only exacerbate the situation with lower ratings of service levels and higher insurance premiums.
In short, we’re going to pay either way. I’d rather my money go to faster response times and improved levels of service by supporting our firefighters, rather than to the bottom line of an insurance company.
And it’s not all about fire. The district says it responds to 1,200 medical calls each year, a steep increase in the 100 or so calls taxpayers funded back in 1980, when $25 per year seemed an appropriate level of funding. By approving the measure, residents not only will get the Dog Bar fire station reopened but also benefit from Higgins’ plans to add paramedics at all three of its stations.
At least then, when I have that heart attack while out clearing all that brush for defensible space, it might not take 20 minutes until help arrives.
Over the past year we’ve watched our community work together to “Ready Nevada County” for the threat of wildfire. Seems the least we can do in South County is to support those efforts by supporting those who will head toward the flames while we’re evacuating away from them.
I think Supervisor Ed Scofield, not exactly a proponent for tax increases, put it very well at last week’s rally for Measure I.
“People have to say they’re willing to pay for fire protection,” Scofield said. “Come on — $25 a year is ridiculous.”
Indeed. The 1980s called, it wants its assessment back.
For the sake of South County, it’s far past time to get this done.
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4249.
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