MADERA COUNTY — The Madera County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously during a special meeting today to approve the Draft Sales Tax Expenditure Plan aimed at putting a public safety tax measure before the voters in March 2017.
This is the next step toward putting a one-cent sales tax measure on the ballot, revenues from which would be specifically designated for fire and law enforcement.
On Jan. 26, the Board voted unanimously to authorize the County Administrative Officer to seek professional services to gauge public support for a proposed sales tax dedicated exclusively to public safety. All funds collected would be used to fund the County Fire Department and Sheriff’s Office to improve response times and service levels within both departments.
VRPA Technologies, Inc. was hired for the job, and an Ad Hoc Committee was formed, composed of two Board of Supervisor members, the Madera County Administrator, Madera County Fire Department and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) representatives, the Sheriff’s Office, and other agency staff. They completed a Draft Sales Tax Expenditure Plan (Plan) on July 11 and submitted it to the Board for approval today.
The Plan lays out the challenges faced by a County of approximately 155,000 people — estimated to grow to over 319,000 by 2037 — focusing on the unincorporated areas which includes all of Eastern Madera County.
“Madera County still has the same number of firefighters as it did in the 1920s, when the population was only one-tenth of what it is today,” states the Plan. “Moreover, firefighting, emergency response, and law enforcement standards and techniques are constantly improving. Thus, government and private insurers’ standards for service levels, equipment and facilities are constantly being upgraded, and investment is needed to meet these standards.”
The proposed sales tax would be collected over a 20-year period (October 2017 through June 2037) only in the unincorporated areas of Madera County. The county’s incorporated cities are working on their own tax measures, and will not vote on, nor be subject to this “specific use tax.”
The tax is expected to generate an average of just over $8 million per year, with the proceeds going directly to sheriff and fire services. One percent will be allocated to the County of Madera for administration costs, and of the remaining 99 percent, 80 percent will be allocated for County fire protection related activities and programs, and 20 percent will go to the Sheriff’s Office. No new County administrative staff will be hired a a result of the measure.
In order to guarantee that all funds are spent as promised, VRPA President Georgiena Vivian says the proposed tax plan will include strong fiscal accountability requirements including annual, independent financial audits, and a Citizen’s Oversight Committee. According to the Plan, a committee will be formed to inform the public and to ensure that the Public Safety Sales Tax Measure’s funding program revenues and expenditures are spent as promised to Madera County residents.
Two-thirds (67 percent) voter approval is necessary for the measure to pass. According to the latest voter poll results, the public safety tax has a broad base of support — 72 percent according to results gathered between Mar. 21, and Mar. 27, by EMC Research during a live telephone survey of likely voters in the unincorporated areas of Madera County.
“Core values” identified through the surveys included such items as:
Madera County County Fire Department:
- Additional Paid Firefighters
- Additional Equipment
- Enhanced Training
- New and Enhanced Fire Station Services
- Enhanced Fire Standards of Coverage and Response Times
- Increased Paid Call Firefighter Services and Support
- Reduced Home Insurance Policy Rate
- Enhanced Dead Tree Removal
Madera County Sheriff’s Office:
- Improved Response Times
- Increased Sheriff Protection Coverage
- Reduced Crime
- Reduced Traffic Accidents
- Safer County Environment
- Enhanced Community Involvement and Education
For the entire Plan, including survey results, please visit http://maderacountyca.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=4&ID=2599&MeetingID=1090
Many homeowners have suffered sticker shock in recent years, as the cost of homeowner’s insurance has skyrocketed, increasing in some cases to over five times what they had paid in previous years. Others have been unable to sell their homes as prospective buyers learn that no one will write insurance in their area.
As stated in the Plan, “The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) sets standards for fire protection services, and those standards reflect changing industry needs and evolving technologies.
“As NFPA standards and state and federal laws designed to implement these standards have evolved, neither the County nor higher levels of government have provided funding to improve staffing equipment and training needed to meet these higher standards. Thus over time, the County has fallen behind in terms of
standards of coverage and response times, essential services structures, and meeting fire engine and other equipment standards.
“It is important to note that improving fire safety capabilities to meet current standards will offer benefits to homeowners even when they are not directly affected by a fire. Not meeting NFPA standard currently results in poorratings by insurance companies; this results in annual policy premiums that are $500-$3500 higher for Madera property owners. Thus, passage of the Measure is expected to result in reduced home insurance policy rates, a benefit shared by all property owners.
“The Measure will also improve firefighters’ ability to respond to medical emergencies. In the unincorporated areas, ambulance services are scarce, and firefighters typically serve as first responders to accidents and other serious medical events.”
As is known by all first responders, every second counts in a medical emergency. In situations such as heart attack, stroke, or critical vehicle accident, improved response times, skills and tools will save lives.
For law enforcement, having more deputies on the road will improve public safety and shorted response times for service requests and active situations. The plan aims to put nine new deputies on the streets over the next six years.
Funding the public safety through a sales tax, as opposed to a property tax, is seen as the best way to spread the responsibility not only to residents but to those traveling through the area who also avail themselves of local resources when they have vehicle accidents, are injured while recreating, or suffer medical episodes.
The target date for the measure to go before the voters is March 2017. In the meantime, the Ad Hoc Committee will continue to work with VRPA on the financial research, community outreach, opinion research, and expenditure plan development required for this tax measure.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler says he is very happy to have this finally moving forward.
“I’ve been trying to do this for about 10 years,” said Wheeler. “Our ISO ratings are never going to be lowered if we don’t get our stations staffed and boost our Paid Call Firefighter numbers. And the best thing about this is that we as supervisors aren’t making the decision. The people get to vote to say if they want more public safety; it’s all up to them.”
Wheeler says his experience at all his Town Hall meetings is that the overwhelming majority of people are in favor of the tax.
“It’s been 99 percent positive,” he says. “Everyone wants to know when we’re going to move on this so they can help — the people on the street, the Chambers of Commerce, private people and businesses. This is the time to give everyone the facts and educate the people, then let them decide.
“Another benefit is that everybody pays it, including the visitors. We have about a million cars a year coming through here, and they’ll all pay.”
County Staff was directed to return to the Board on Oct. 4 with the final sales tax expenditure plan, proposed sales tax measure ordinance and all associated documents.
For the complete packet of documents submitted to the Board for this meeting, please visit http://maderacountyca.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=1060&Inline=True
To watch the Board of Supervisors meeting concerning the Public Safety Tax, click here.