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Our View: A taxing situation

The Union Editorial Board

Most anyone can look around Nevada County and realize something needs to happen.

There are too many fire fuels across too much of our county. Defensible space is good in spots, but isn’t uniform. The smallest spark could set our towns on fire, especially when you consider the intense heat wave we experienced this week.

Why, then, is someone actively working toward making it more difficult to pass Measure V, the November ballot initiative that, if passed, will impose a half-cent sales tax to go toward fire prevention?

Barry Pruett — a local attorney known to champion conservative causes — is representing his wife, Audrey, in a move to, among other things, have a judge designate the tax as “special,” not “general.” Also, he wants the ballot language reworded.

The initiative currently is a general tax, which means it only needs a simple majority to pass. However, the funds aren’t earmarked for fire prevention and mitigation. Detractors argue that’s a good reason to make it a special tax, which would require a two-thirds vote to pass and specifically earmark the funds for their intended purpose.

Regardless of Pruett’s, or anyone’s, motives, his client has a right to seek relief in our court system. This editorial board has come out in favor of the half-cent sales tax. It can take that stance and simultaneously support someone looking to the courts for a remedy when they feel it’s warranted.

However, we strongly believe that the half-cent sales tax is essential to treat our fire fuels, provide more home visits from home inspectors looking to help people and serve as matching funds for grants.

You just need to look to the Mosquito Fire, currently raging in Placer and El Dorado counties, for proof of that need.

Maybe a judge will find that the ballot language needs to be changed, as Pruett argues in court filings. If so, that decision must happen no later than Tuesday, as Wednesday is the deadline to get the information to the printers.

The judge’s decision, whatever it may be, won’t change this community’s desperate need to do something, but it could make it more difficult to achieve.

The sales tax isn’t a silver bullet — or perfectly proportioned rainfall that comes throughout the year — but it would serve as a major boost to local fire prevention efforts.

However, it’s not the only tool we should use. Home hardening is essential. Homeowners carry an obligation to keep their property free of fire fuels and as accessible to firefighters as possible. Shaded fuel breaks created with county dollars, like the Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone project, only add to the security we build with home hardening.

“Logging” is a dirty word to some in our county. We’re not suggesting a return to those days, but we do advocate for the sensible thinning of our forests and construction of biomass plants. Removing some trees while maintaining the vibrancy of our forests, and creating fuel for biomass plants, is a no brainer. That’s especially true after this past week, when state officials worried about the possibility of blackouts due to the heat wave.

These are prongs in a multi-faceted approach to fire prevention, with the half-cent sales tax at the forefront.

People like Audrey Pruett may worry about tax dollars going to the general fund, unfettered, looted by a future Board of Supervisors with fewer scruples than our current slate of leaders.

She’s not the only one. That’s why there’s a 10-year sunset on the tax measure, if it passes, so that we, the people, aren’t putting a forever tax on the books.

Current and future supervisors absolutely must ensure transparency on this tax. The money may go into the general fund, but it should be separate on paper and every penny should be accounted for.

This tax might not be the best solution to our problems, but it is a possible solution and one that no judge should change or set aside without careful contemplation.

Because, after all, something’s got to happen.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com

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