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Madera County Supervisors Move Forward On Public Safety Tax

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:

  • Public Safety Madera County smAdditional 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

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

To watch the Board of Supervisors meeting concerning the Public Safety Tax, click here.

Related Articles:

The Making Of A Paid Call Firefighter Pt. 2 — The Training

The Making Of A Paid Call Firefighter Pt. 1 – Local Heroes In Decline

What is an Amador Cal Fire Station?

Madera County Quietly Loses A Fire Station

County Considers Putting Public Safety Tax On The Ballot

Pay Now Or Pay Later – Fire Department In Crisis


  1. While I am as concerned as anyone about fires in our area, I am opposed to yet another tax. People who live
    In Madera, Chowchilla, Fresno and other valley communities frequently come to our area for recreational activities or
    To enjoy Yosemite. There always seems to be a way to get grant money for YARTS buses to make many trips to the
    Park with very few subsidized passengers. There is grant money available for a RV park in our foothills, which
    would be used by a very limited demographic of the population, and money in county coffers for consultants and
    Environmental studies. We don’t have a problem because of not enough money; we have a problem because of
    Poor priotitization of what to do with the money that we already have. There will always be some reason to increase a tax after we have been promised that it will never exceed the original 1%. Look what happened to the 1% social security tax. Look at how much more Californians pay for gasoline than people in other states. How about vehicle
    Registration fees? There is a never ending need for increasing taxes…feed the hungry, save the birds or toads or something that used to be taken care of by private and church charities. In other words, there is always the need for
    Bigger government. What is being done with the money from the fees that were imposed on foothill and mountain residents? Am I the only one who has noticed that we are billed earlier every year for this “fee”? It’s no longer due every twelve months, but has morphed into about every 7 to 9 months. We need to start using tax dollars more wisely than paying out increasingly large pensions to elected officials. These positions, like the board of supervisors,
    Used to be part time and were paid accordingly, without lifetime benefits after only one term.
    Again, when won’t there be yet another reason for more tax increases? I urge you to vote no.

  2. Let me get this straight. Our Board of Supervisors (BOS) are telling us that Safety is first but do their actions over the past several years demonstrate this? Let’s look at a few facts.

    • Between December 8, 2015 and January 16, 2016 the BOS voted to spend $4.6 Million to increase the salaries for Madera county workers – all which will take effect by July 2016.

    • For the 2016/2017 budget, millions more in salary increases are funded.

    • The BOS is spending nearly $200K for a consultant to poll residents if they are open to a sales tax increase.

    • The BOS recently spent another $300K+ to help kick start a 956-acre Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) Park off HWY41 west of O’Neal’s.

    •The major reason the ISO rates increased in 2015 was because the Madera County Fire Department did not provide ISO with the requested information by the cutoff date. (Ref: Madera County Fire Marshal Deborah Keenan before BOS in April/2015)

    •The proposed Sales Tax of 1% might raise about 5 Million (no one knows for sure how much it will raise), yet our Crony Government Board of Supervisor bureaucrats have spent more than this just on raising county employee salaries.

    • If raising salaries is more important than funding our fire department, then put a salary increase on the March 2017 ballot and let the voters decide. I can guarantee you that Tom Wheeler and his Crony government buddies won’t do this because they know if won’t pass.

    •Without public safety nothing else matters The county needs to “fix” its lack of priorities, not pick the pockets of tax payers!

    •Solution: It is not fiscally prudent to raise the sales tax of Madera County to pay for basic protective services. The county needs to follow the example of the private sector and economize and live within its budget. Public safety should be the number one priority of this county, not increasing workers’ salaries, paying for consultants to tell us we’re not paying our “fair share” and getting involved with off-highway vehicle parks which should strictly be a free-market enterprise not the county bureaucrats picking winners and losers

    •Vote NO on this Sales Tax measure and send a message to our Crony Government “leaders” to get their priorities straight.

    Once the camel’s nose (tax increase) is under the tent, it will only get worse.

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