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Our View: Fire at the polls

The Union Editorial Board

When fire comes to Nevada County, there won’t be a vote.

No one will ask permission for the ladder fuels to catch fire and the buildings to sprout flames. The accidents or arson or just dumb luck will come unbidden, like they always do.

We, however, just might have a chance to do something about it before the fire comes.

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors is scheduled on Aug. 9 to hear about, and then vote on, putting a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot.

And, yes, there will be the chance for public comment.

Few, if anyone, will argue against our community doing something about fire danger. It’s maybe the one issue we all can agree on. Red, blue, right, left — it doesn’t matter. Despite personal political stripes, we all live here and want our homes protected.

How we do that, well, that’s where the arguments begin.

If we’re to do something, and people agree that we should, then it costs money.

The county has determined that a sales tax is the best way to fund these efforts. By taking a certain bureaucratic path, it’ll only need a simple majority to win at the polls.

Usually, a sales tax needs two-thirds. That’s when it’s for a stated, specific cause, like the county’s library tax. This won’t have that restriction, and that’s cause of concern for some people.

But here’s the problem — this is our best shot at taking real action toward reducing the threat of fire. If this community demands the county take the path of a two-thirds vote, it’ll likely lose. County polling shows the measure in the mid-60s, though we don’t know its polling methodology. Regardless, that’s a recipe for failure.

Unless, of course, we go with the simple majority for passage.

Few people are in favor of giving any government more money without assurances. That’s exactly what county leaders must give their constituents. Spell out in black and white precisely what this money will go toward. Answer the questions posed. Will private landowners receive any direct assistance with clearing their fire fuels and having them carted away? What roads, public and private, will get defensible space treatment and when exactly will that occur? Will county leaders consider a campground to get homeless people out of the woods?

Will this tax continue forever, or will it sunset at some point?

Have county officials answer these questions and supervisors commit publicly that they will abide by this covenant. Give us reasons to trust the Board of Supervisors on this issue. Don’t just wave your hands and say, “fire safety.”

As our elected leaders can imagine, we’ve been burned before.

Anyone can look at the margins by which our supervisors have won their races, when they even faced an opponent. These are trusted leaders at the helm.

But as the Great Communicator advised, we trust, but want to verify.

Because with that trust, plus verification, comes the very thing this county wants — passage of a half-cent sales tax.

County officials shouldn’t just try to sell the tax, they need to convince people of its value. Show, don’t only tell, what this tax would do and what consequences we face without its passage. Pointedly remark on how not just residents, but anyone who makes qualifying purchases in our county, will pay this tax.

And, finally, make sure you — the resident with a stake in this county — vote. We must make this decision.

Because fire, waiting for the next careless act, has already made up its mind.

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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