George Boardman: Higgins Fire District misplaces blame for third failed tax measure |

George Boardman: Higgins Fire District misplaces blame for third failed tax measure

George Boardman
John Hart/ | The Union

Observations from the center stripe: Democracy edition

WHAT GIVES me the impression county supervisors had their minds made up before the hearing on the low-income housing even started … NEVADA UNION had more students in 1999 (2,750) than NU and Bear River combined have today (less than 2,400). How much longer can we justify both campuses? … IF YOU’RE interested in serious coverage of international news, check out “BBC World News America” on KVIE. The anchors ditch the theatrics and focus on asking intelligent questions … IN DEFERENCE to the feelings of homeless people, Sacramento has ditched a proposal to eject people from public transit who “smell bad.” I would love to have the opportunity to eject women who overdo the perfume … OUR MILITARY tax dollars at work: You would think somebody in the Army knows how to properly tether a blimp. Meanwhile, the Air Force has been given $100 billion to develop and built 100 new bombers … WHEN IT comes to foreign policy, the Obama Administration has mastered the art of back-pedaling …

Fire districts throughout California are having a difficult time getting residents to increase taxes; about two-thirds of these proposals are being shot down in flames at the ballot box, according to one report.

People who worry about these things attribute the losses to several factors: general resentment of the state fire fee imposed on rural counties, a general reluctance to raise taxes, failure to appreciate the fire danger we face, and a desire to see government consolidate services.

But none of that played into the recent defeat of a proposal to raise taxes in the Higgins Fire District, according to directors. Apparently, the tax increase was rejected because nobody can read a calendar, and a sign that’s been sitting on Combie Road for years supposedly misled the public.

That’s the post-mortem provided by district directors at a recent meeting as they confront the necessity of making major cuts in fire services after the latest attempt to increase a 35-year-old tax failed for the third time in as many years.

I do know the district mounted an inept campaign that couldn’t counter off-the-wall charges by a pair of Tea Party gadflies.

Tax proponents had a high hurdle to jump; approval of 66.7 percent of those voting was required for passage. Elections in 2013 and 2014 came close to passage, but the latest attempt in August got just 59 percent of the vote. Why the big drop-off? Director John Boykin said one reason was failure to rebut an argument against the tax increase that appeared in the voter pamphlet. Nobody seemed to realize they had to submit their rebuttal by June 24, and Boykin’s blaming the district’s own election consultants for the screw-up. Boykin is threatening to withhold an $18,000 payment to SCI Consulting Group, the kind of action that can lead to expensive legal bills the district doesn’t need. Apparently nobody at the fire district has a calendar, or they don’t think oversight is required when you hire outside consultants.

The other factor that doomed the tax increase is a Cal Fire/Higgins sign that’s been sitting on Combie Road for years. Director Alex Crawford said the sign is confusing because passersby only see the Cal Fire symbol, a misrepresentation of the two entities’ relationship that influenced the vote. I don’t know how many times I’ve passed that sign in the last 15 years, but I’ve never found it confusing. I’ll bet a lot of residents of the area have never noticed the sign, but are familiar with those bright shiny red trucks that say “Higgins Fire.”

I do know the district mounted an inept campaign that couldn’t counter off-the-wall charges by a pair of Tea Party gadflies. Now that the damage has been done, the Higgins directors should start consolidation talks with any nearby fire districts that are willing to listen.

If nothing else, a successful merger might produce more creative excuses in the future.

Blowing smoke

Everybody assumes an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana will be approved by California’s voters next year. The good news for people who dread that day: At least three draft initiatives are trying to win backing from powerful pro-pot groups, a scenario that can lead to the intense divisions that helped defeat the last effort to legalize recreational pot in 2010.

Big money is at stake here, and that of course has attracted the interest of big money individuals who want more of the stuff. People with family and personal fortunes made at Progressive Insurance, Hyatt Hotels, and Napster are pushing their own interests in this crusade.

One of those people is Sean Parker, a co-founder of Napster and ex-president of Facebook, who is behind a draft initiative that would allow people over 21 to possess an ounce of pot and grow six plants a year, and impose a 15 percent sales tax on highly regulated stores.

A rival proposal from Reform California includes anti-discrimination language for medical pot users in the workplace and housing. How this would clash with anti-smoking ordinances already on the books is a question that will provide steady work for lawyers for many years. Another initiative is expected from the Drug Policy Alliance, giving people on both sides of the issue plenty of opportunity to find the devils that always lurk in the details of these proposals. The initiative Parker’s group is circulating is 51 pages long, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Meanwhile, a new study reveals that use of marijuana in the U.S. has doubled over a recent 10-year period, and about 3 in 10 users are abusing or dependent on the drug. The increase was most notable among middle-aged and older people, as well as blacks and Hispanics.

A group of Columbia University researchers reported that 9.5 percent of over 36,000 adults surveyed in 2012-13 reported using pot in the past year, up from 4.1 percent in a similar survey of 43,000 adults in 2001-02. That could make for some slow going at the polling station, assuming regular users remember to vote.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union.

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