Fire protection and how to pay for it will be on the minds of voters in two Bay Area counties next month. The March 3 ballot in Sonoma County will include Measure G, a proposed half-cent sales tax, while Marin County will decide on Measure C, which would increase local property taxes.
Sonoma County’s Measure G would raise $51 million annually to supplement existing services by the county’s 38 fire agencies. The proposed half-cent sales tax would allot 90 percent of the proceeds to incorporated and unincorporated fire agencies for alerts, warnings, sirens, vegetation management, response, wildfire prevention and preparedness, recruitment and retention of firefighters, equipment and facilities.
The Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will share 10 percent of the tax revenue for other response and prevention needs and consolidating the fire agencies.
Annual estimated revenue increases are $25.8 million for independent fire districts; $7.8 million for County Service Area 40; and around $12.3 million to be shared by the cities of Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Sonoma.
Fire agencies and districts, excluding the cities, will receive the tax proceeds if they work toward regional consolidation to achieve efficient, effective and sustainable services in the county. Consolidation reviews will take place once every three years.
The special half-cent tax requires two-thirds approval, and the tax revenue will not supplant a fire agency’s general fund revenue from property and parcel taxes.
Jason Boaz, president of the Sonoma County Fire Chiefs Association and other fire chiefs in the county, said Measure G will allow for the hiring of approximately 200 additional firefighters and fire prevention officers to provide around-the-clock services.
Michael Hilber, who is running for the county’s District 5 supervisor seat, opposes the half-cent tax as too much in view of the parcel and property tax revenue fire agencies already receive. Hilburn says a quarter-cent tax would be adequate.
Hilber also believes too much tax revenue goes to large, unionized city fire departments and not to the county’s volunteer fire agencies.
In Marin County, voters will consider Measure C, a 10-cent per building square-foot tax for 10 years that would raise $19.3 million annually for wildfire prevention measures.
The Yes on C group says the measure will improve emergency alert and warning systems, improve evacuation routes and infrastructure for quicker evacuations, reduce hazardous vegetation and expand defensible space and fire safety inspections.
The Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority, comprising 17 public agencies responsible for fire services, supports the measure that requires two-thirds approval. Proponents say the county needs a coordinated program for proactive wildfire prevention and preparedness.
The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers, CO$T, initially opposed the measure because the tax had no expiration, but now supports Measure C. The Marin Conservation League and fireSAFEMARIN also support Measure C.
The Marin Public Policy Institute opposes the measure. Treasurer Michael Hartnett believes the threat of wildfires in Marin County is being exploited to raise taxes for unfounded pensions, and the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority is a bureaucracy unaccountable to voters.
Hartnett said the unnecessary tax likely will become permanent within five years and there is ample revenue from existing taxes for removing vegetation and evacuation routes.
The Marin Public Policy Institute says competent traffic managers have already established evacuation routes without the need for a $19 million a year tax to burden taxpayers.
The Tiburon Fire Protection District and the City of Belvedere elected not to join the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority because they receive revenue for fire services from a local tax.