Many Madera County residents enjoy living in wide-open spaces – on the Valley floor or in the Sierra foothills – sheltered from the hustle and bustle of a city.
There are costs for that freedom, however, and they have been escalating.
Forced to pick between providing unincorporated areas with decreased fire and law-enforcement protection or asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase dedicated to public safety, the Madera County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved putting Measure L on the March 7 ballot.
Considering the anti-tax attitude of many Madera County residents, it is clear that the supervisors risked considerable political capital in calling for this election.
An examination of the facts, however, indicates that a public safety tax in the areas outside of the incorporated cities of Madera and Chowchilla is justified.
Here are a few facts that we will share with you:
▪ Madera County has about the same number of firefighters as it had in the late 1920s even though its population then was one-tenth of today. Modern equipment and training can absorb some of this glaring gap, but it’s indisputable that the county needs more professional firefighters to protect lives and property.
▪ Measure L, if approved by two-thirds of voters, would provide three new fire stations and engines, and two on-duty firefighters around the clock in Bass Lake, North Fork and Chowchilla/Fairmead.
▪ Sales tax revenue would add two firefighters around the clock at five additional stations. All together, the measure would add 25 career firefighters to the county’s ranks.
▪ This new funding would beef up the county’s paid-call firefighter unit, which has about 100 members – down from about 300. These volunteers are essential to keeping residents safe. As things stand, they are not paid for medical emergency calls and they have to pay for their own equipment (about $3,000) and training (about 200 hours). That would change with a “yes” vote on Measure L.
▪ The Sheriff’s Office would add nine deputies, which will improve response time and keep deputies safer. In addition, the new deputies will provide the sheriff with flexibility to quickly assemble special units in rural and foothill areas to target specific crime patterns.
▪ The sales tax, which would be in place for 20 years beginning in October, is expected to produce about about $8 million per year by raising the sales tax from 7.75 to 8.75 percent. According to the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office, the statewide average is 8.5 percent.
Naysayers are pointing to this and that in Madera County’s recent past and saying that the supervisors have wasted money that could have gone to public safety. And they have a point. But whatever has been spent on folly is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of bringing the county’s woefully understaffed public-safety departments into the 21st century.
Measure L is a much-needed investment in the safety of residents and Madera County’s future prosperity. It deserves a “yes” vote by the 35,000 registered voters in the county’s unincorporated areas.