Madera County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to put a measure on next year’s ballot to raise the county sales tax by one cent to pay for additional firefighters, fire stations and sheriff’s deputies.
The measure will go to voters in a March 7 special election.
The supervisors wanted the issue on the November ballot. But because of all the propositions and other issues on the presidential ballot, supervisors moved the proposed sales-tax hike to March so it can get more attention.
“We thought we should stand alone to educate people about what this is,” Supervisor Tom Wheeler said.
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The sales tax would rise from 8 cents to 9 cents per dollar in unincorporated areas. Passage will require two-thirds approval by voters. The cities of Madera and Chowchilla are excluded.
The sales tax will raise $4 million in its first year, rising to $12 million when it expires in 2037. In an average year, it’s expected to raise $8 million. Revenues from the measure can’t supplant other taxpayer funding, but can serve to augment existing tax revenue, county officials said.
Eighty percent of the revenues will pay for additional firefighters, fires stations, improved equipment, fire trucks and doubling the budget for the paid-call firefighters by providing funding for training and fire clothing.
The firefighting money will pay for new firefighters and engines in three new stations. Sites being considered are the Fairmead/Chowchilla area, North Fork and Bass Lake. Additional firefighters will be added in the county’s five existing firefighter-staffed stations.
The remaining 20 percent will pay for seven additional Madera County sheriff’s deputies in the first year of the tax and two additional deputies by the sixth year.
The ideal funding would be another $10 million (annually) but we can make improvements with another $4 million or $5 million.
Bill Ritchey, volunteer supporting the Madera County public-safety tax measure
A half-cent sales tax was considered, but supervisors didn’t think it would meet all the needs of the county.
“The ideal funding would be another $10 million (annually) but we can make improvements with another $4 million or $5 million,” said Bill Ritchey, a volunteer supporting the measure.
Madera County is among the hardest-hit counties for tree mortality in the state, and parts of the county have the highest possible rating for insurance premiums because of the fire danger posed by dead trees.
“All you have to do is look up at the Sierra Nevada and you can tell the need is there,” Supervisor Max Rodriguez said. “We are heading for a catastrophe up there ... the forests are devastated, this is a no-brainer.”
Supervisors say they don’t know if additional firefighters and stations will lead to lower insurance rates because of improved response times, but without moving ahead on a tax measure there would be no chance for premiums to drop.
“Not doing anything is not an option,” Supervisor Brett Frazier said.
In addition, he said, nine extra deputies will improve response times and officer safety.
Supervisor David Rogers said the county will not have the money to significantly add firefighters and deputies without the sales-tax measure.
“There is no other way to increase the protection that we’re offering but this measure,” he said. “Our first obligation is to take care of our citizens. It’s the responsible thing to do.”