MADERA COUNTY — With all of the votes counted, the citizens of the unincorporated areas of Madera County have voted “no” on Measure L — a one-cent sales tax that would have been dedicated to fire protection and the Sheriff’s Office.
The vote was 44 percent voting yes, and 56 percent voting no. A two-thirds majority was needed for the measure to pass. Just 29.5 percent of registered voters participated in the election.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler says he is very disappointed that “people didn’t bother to find out the real truth, and instead listening to all the misinformation put out by the opponents.”
“That really made it hard to get the truth out there, and people didn’t take into consideration what this means for the safety and the livelihood of our people,” said Wheeler. “We do not have the money, no matter what they say. We haven’t had the money for 30, 40, 50 years, so I don’t know what’s going to happen now.”
Wheeler says the Fire Department has to have two people on their fire engines, and that there’s nothing the Board can do at this point.
“There are services we have to have to satisfy the public safety — we don’t have the $8 million a year it would take. We can’t cut welfare, we can’t cut social services; there are things we have to do that are mandated, and we already put 64 percent of our dollars toward public safety. We can maybe close our jails, maybe that’s what people want. We can let the convicts run loose.”
Madera County Fire Chief Nancy Koerperich is also deeply disappointed by the outcome, but says she is grateful to all the Cal Fire firefighters, Paid Call Firefighters (PCFs), deputies and citizens who put their heart and soul into trying to educated the public about the need for this measure, and to all the citizens who voted to support their first responders.
“It’s really important that we were able to at least let the citizens know that there’s only one person responding on their fire engines,” says Koerperich. “Cal Fire is still committed to helping Madera County become a successful fire department. As the Fire Chief, I have to be able to protect not only the citizens, but also the firefighters who ride on those fire engines, so I’m going to see that we continue on with the fight.
“For me, it’s about getting additional staffing on the fire engines and recruiting PCFs; those are the things we’ll have to discuss. We’ll have to talk to the Board about how we can get some additional incentives for PCFs and get some better staffing, even if it’s a phased-in approach. We’ll continue to do what we need to do to help them.”
Chief Koerperich also expressed her appreciation to the Board of Supervisors for taking on this important issue and trying to improve conditions for both citizens and firefighters.