To the Editor:
Both supporters and opponents of Measure L agree there is a need for improved safety—fire and Sheriff’s protection—in Madera County. They differ on how to fund this improved safety. Supporters want a 1% sales tax in the unincorporated parts of Madera County. Opponents contend there is enough money already in the County budget but it is being spent on non-priority, non-safety projects.
Many County residents remember the Measure T transportation sales tax passed in 2006 where Eastern Madera County residents ended up paying for road improvements in the valley portion of Madera County. The misrepresentation of Measure T casts doubt on the sales pitch we are seeing now for Measure L. Once bitten twice shy. An oversight committee appointed by the Madera County Board of Supervisors (BOS) will ensure this tax money will only be used for safety in the unincorporated parts of the County. That’s like the fox guarding the hen house. The Measure T experience shows plans can be altered by an appointed oversight committee without voter consensus.
According to an article by Dan Walters in the Fresno Bee for 2/26/17, many local governments are feeling a pension squeeze of sharply rising costs and seek additional tax dollars for “public safety” without disclosing much of this money would go to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). The Walters article mentions much of the Measure L revenue promised for safety would go for pensions based on data from the County budget and CalPERS. Also, according to Madera County Resolution 2016-257 dated August 20, 2016, Madera County taxpayers will pay the FULL AMOUNT of retirement contributions to CalPERS for Elected Positions and County Department Heads. So is Measure L really about safety or just another bait-and-switch tax plan to fund employee pensions?
The County Voter Information Guide states Measure L money will pay for 3 new fire stations—2 in the valley and 1 in the mountain area—and buy fire engines for these new stations. New engines for existing stations would be bought out of the General Fund. This is not mentioned in the home mailers supporting Measure L. The Voter Guide also states Measure L will not fund all public safety needs so we can expect more taxes or property tax assessments down the road. So why build new fire stations? Why not staff and equip existing stations and help Paid Call Firefighters (PCFs) with the cost of training and equipment? Why not use the General Fund now to buy equipment?
Supporters of Measure L have made it clear that no County taxpayer money has been used to fund their expensive campaign. Funding has come from firefighter and law enforcement unions and several out-of-county real estate developers and businesses. Why are they spending so much money to get County residents to pay more tax rather than help pay for Sheriff and firefighter staffing and equipment?
Supporters assert opponents are sadly mistaken, cold-hearted, and driven by political ideology. Not so. The current safety funding issue arose because for decades the County did not put safety first to fund fire and law enforcement first. Only now is the County slogan “safety first” when it wants County residents to pay more tax. County officials have approved non-priority spending on projects like an OHV park, County monument sign, and a Starbucks kiosk in the County office building. County officials often claim they have saved the County millions of dollars. So why hasn’t this money been spent on safety? The Voter Guide states the BOS controls $60+ million of the budget yet only funded County fire services with $6.3 million. Recent home mailers state dramatically “We’re gambling with people’s lives”. Then the BOS appears to be very cold-hearted with the measly funding provided for County fire services. Perhaps fire personnel should state their funding needs more strongly to the BOS rather than to County residents.
Supporters use scare tactics of “Pay now or pay later” or claiming ISO ratings will remain high with more expensive or cancelled homeowners insurance coverage without Measure L to provide sufficient fire staffing. There is no guarantee Measure L will affect ISO ratings. These ratings increased because County fire staff failed to file the required paperwork to ISO. It was not due to fire personnel staffing. County residents have already found more affordable insurance coverage.
Supporters claim only Measure L will provide the additional firefighting and law enforcement services needed for adequate public safety. No, responsible County spending of existing taxpayer money will help fund safety needs. This occurred in January 2017 when the BOS approved a raise for PCFs and DCDOs. This was without Measure L and definitely a step in the right direction. Perhaps the County elected officials and department heads could contribute to their retirements and free up taxpayer money for safety meeds. The fire and law enforcement unions could help fund safety and not just a campaign to make residents pay more tax. County residents are not cold-hearted. Last year there was a generous anonymous donation to start the Sheriff’s K-9 unit. Go-Fund-Me accounts can be started. Fundraisers can be held. People would be more willing to GIVE their money than to have it forced from them. If County officials are willing to listen, there are solutions to funding safety other than the usual tax and spend schemes. Without the County implementing a principled responsible spending plan that truly puts SAFETY FIRST, County residents can bet the buck will not stop with Measure L.
VOTE ‘NO’ ON MEASURE L