A half-cent sales tax measure will go before Sonoma County voters in March, four years after a similar measure was narrowly defeated.
The measure would impose an additional 0.5 percent sales tax in both incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county to fund wildfire protection, firefighter retention, and other related emergency services.
As a citizen initiative, the ordinance would only need a simple majority to pass. The tax would generate an estimated $60 million annually, according to the county.
The county Board of Supervisors accepted the county clerk’s certification of the more than 23,000 valid signatures that were submitted by the measure’s backers Sept. 12.
The proposed ordinance is titled the “Improved and Enhanced Local Fire Protection, Paramedic Services and Disaster Response Initiative.”
The measure is backed by the Sonoma County Fire Chiefs Association, which lists 25 members on its website.
If at first you don’t succeed
The organization, made up of fire departments throughout the county as well as Cal Fire and the U.S. Coast Guard, is trying for a second time to get voters to approve additional fire funds through a sales tax increase.
The organization supported a similar tax measure that appeared on the March 2020 ballot called Measure G, which received 64.8 percent of the vote, falling just short of the 66.7 percent needed.
That measure was initiated by the Board of Supervisors, making it a special tax that required a two-thirds supermajority to pass. Citizen initiatives, which are generated by gathering enough signatures from registered voters, only require a simple majority of voters to be approved.
The funds would be intended to be split unevenly between the county’s 31 fire agencies to be used for a variety of firefighting and emergency services, including firefighter recruitment and retention, equipment and facility updates, and preparedness. A main goal would be to staff every fire engine with at least three local firefighters, according to the proposed ordinance.
An oversight board of 11 members would be established by the county Board of Supervisors if the measure is approved. The tax would go into effect Oct. 1, 2024.
The election will be officially called at the board’s meeting on Sept. 26. It will be combined with the presidential primary election, according to a county spokesperson.