In between secrecy and fire safety |

In between secrecy and fire safety

Last week, we expressed our support for the proposed Fire Suppression Benefit Assessment measure, designed to help finance the efforts of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District. Since then, many residents within that district have voiced concerns over the process used to conduct that vote.

And while we continue to support the measure, we certainly understand the concerns regarding the lack of privacy in the process. The ballot requires the property owners to check a box in support or opposition to the measure, print and sign their names and mail it into the district.

The problem is that most of us cherish our privacy, especially when it comes to voting. As one resident pointed out, “We have curtains on a voting booth not to please Martha Stewart,” but to ensure that our vote is secret.

According to officials, the mailed-in ballots will be open for public inspection for 60 days and then they will be sealed. That’s mostly to ensure that the district hasn’t stuffed the ballot box. But it also allows an opportunity for anyone to see how you voted and to do what they will with that bit of information.

Property owners concerned with that process may simply choose to toss their ballot, rather than risk public disclosure.

If passed, the special assessment would replace all existing fire levies (assessments and taxes) with an annual charge of $89 for a single family home, $66.75 for a condo, $35.66 for a mobile home and $26.70 for a vacant lot. The money would replace the revenue provided for in 1996 through Measure I, which had a 10-year term that expires next year.

If the assessment fails, fire district officials say they’d probably have to close the Alta Sierra and Ridge Road stations and lay off as many as nine firefighters. That at a time when Nevada County faces an increased fire threat.

The district could have put this measure on the November ballot, but that would have required a two-thirds majority vote, rather than a simple majority. It would also allow all registered voters to vote on the proposal rather than just the property owners who would be asked to pay the bills.

In the end, property owners must weigh their concerns for privacy with the real need for adequate fire protection. In considering those choices, we also encourage them to consider what may happen to their fire insurance if the measure fails and the district is forced to make cuts in service. Especially in high risk areas such as Alta Sierra and Ridge Road.

There are no easy choices in life. But in this case, we think the real need for better fire protection outweighs the potential risks of public disclosure of a ballot vote.

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