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Message From The Supervisor 4-4-12

Supervisor Tom Wheeler, District 5

When I was approached by SierraNewsOnline.com Publisher Gina Clugston to be part of the website, I jumped at the opportunity. Having a widespread district with such distinct communities can make it difficult to keep my constituency informed.

Now with a website dedicated to Eastern Madera County news, I will be able to let you know exactly what’s happening in the County and our district. And believe me when I say there is a lot to be said.

I’ve been your County Supervisor for six years now. Over that time, it has been a struggle to balance the County Budget. We have reduced staffing drastically, implemented furloughs for county employees and cut back on local programs. But we’ve found that these reductions have leant to cost savings measures we never would have considered in the past. The County is now operating much more efficiently than I’ve ever seen it.

Even with the budget struggles, we have managed to complete projects that were sitting on the books for years. It was a personal goal of mine to see the Oakhurst Fire Station and Sheriff Substation completed. The $6.5 million project was completed last year and included a 6,000-square-foot fire station, 9,600-square foot sheriff substation and 1,500-square foot evidence garage.

Another project near and dear to my heart was the North Fork Volunteer Fire Station. As many of you know, the existing station is completely inadequate, floods continually, and was built back in the 1970s. Although the County did not have enough funds to build a station, we were able to partner with the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians and North Fork Community Development Council to make it happen. We broke ground on the nearly $900,000 station located at the North Fork Mill Site on March 29th. Construction of the new 3,200 square-foot facility is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

It’s been very rewarding to help facilitate these projects and see them come to fruition. Having lived in the mountains for more than five decades, I know how much infrastructure is lacking. I’ve fought to make Eastern Madera County a priority in Madera County and your support and willingness to get involved have helped me do just that.

There is no question that District 5 is the most involved and most active district. We have the highest voter turnout. We also have fantastic attendance at each of my town hall meetings. For those of you that attend those meetings regularly, you know they act as an open forum for you to voice any questions or concerns you may have. They are also a means for me to inform you of the ongoing hot topics in our County. I wanted to cover one of those topics in today’s Message From the Supervisor. Let’s discuss the STATE RURAL FIRE FEE.

The State Rural Fire fee is a special “fee” of up to $150 imposed on habitable structures located within the State Responsibility Area (SRA), lands covered wholly or in part by forests or by trees capable of producing forest products. The fee was implemented as part of the 2011-12 State Budget. The revenues collected are intended for fire prevention, not protection, activities within the SRA such as fire safe council projects and fire prevention education.

The initial regulations adopted by the State Board of Forestry back in August capped the fee at $90, and included a series of discounts that would reduce the fee to $65 for most homeowners. However, the Brown Administration was not satisfied with those regulations because they did not impose the maximum fee. The Administration then made new appointments to the State Board of Forestry and immediately began to craft the new and current set of regulations.

The new regulations were approved on January 23, 2012 with the Board of Forestry having 180 days from then to complete the adoption process for permanent regulations. These regulations impose the maximum fee of $150 per habitable structure, which includes single family homes, multi-dwelling structures and mobile homes. Madera County residents will be given a $35 discount because we have a local fire department, which brings the fee to $115/per habitable structure/per year. We anticipate that this fee will affect 17,600 parcels in our County.

Our Board has opposed this fee at every turn and we will continue to oppose this fee, or illegal tax as we see it. The fee disproportionately impacts rural residents and is highly discriminatory. CAL FIRE’s costs to respond to emergencies that occur in highly-urbanized areas are significantly higher than traditional wildfires in the SRA. Also, many landowners in the SRA already assess themselves for fire protection and prevention services. The SRA fee, therefore, has the effect of double taxation without any additional benefit.

Before the Board of Forestry adopts the permanent regulations, they will issue a 45-day comment period. I will continue to give updates on this as I learn more. I will also do everything I can to oppose this completely unfair and impractical tax.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for allowing me to serve as your County Supervisor. It’s been a busy six years and I don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon. Please feel contact me at 559.662.6050 or tom.wheeler@madera-county.com if you have any questions, concerns or issues I can assist you with.

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