Susan River holds open house, public hearing for upcoming tax measure
The SRFPD is proposing a tax of $75 per improved parcel, or any property with improvements made to it, such as additions to a home or remodelings of a house. The tax would be assessed to these properties every year into the foreseeable future, and would go directly to the fire department for multiple costs, from proper equipment, to engines to training.
The tax will be voted on over the next three weeks in a special mail ballot election open to all residents within the SRFPD’s jurisdiction, starting Monday, July 28. All ballots must be in before Tuesday, August 26. In order for the tax measure to pass, a two-third’s majority of those voting must vote in favor of it.
McCarthy said the special meeting was presented to the public not only as a way for people to find out about the tax that the board voted onto the mail ballot, but to learn more about the operation at the department, comprised entirely of 22 volunteers covering an area of roughly 48 square miles. McCarthy said the district’s about the size of San Francisco, Calif.
The meeting was held at the Johnstonville Fire Hall at 705-145 of Highway 395 at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 23.
An open house was held an hour before the meeting and the hearing, to show residents first hand the department’s newest asset, its new headquarters off of Johnstonville Road.
The meeting began with members of the board explaining various aspects of the district, from the current infrastructure of the department to the revenues and expenses of the fire district.
After an overview of the entire operation, the public hearing was opened to comments from the floor.
People from around the district asked questions and made comments, with many people voicing their support of the tax measure. Others were curious about where the additional money would go, while others voiced concerns about how the average homeowner was tired of taxes being raised all over while their income remained the same.
“Why is the homeowner the one who gets stuck with it?,” said one woman. “If you’re going to do a parcel tax, why don’t you lower the ($75) and tax everyone? Why are we as homeowners having to pay for everything? We’re tired of it.”
McCarthy responded by explaining the reason why the district focused on an improved parcel tax was because it felt that if it had presented a lower tax to everyone in the protection district, it would have never received the two-thirds vote required to pass the tax.
Boardmember John Wilczynski tried to put into perspective the amount of money the district receives in comparison to how valuable the assets are that the department is charged with protecting.
“We received $115,358 in total taxes last year,” Wilczynski said. “Our assessed valuation, excluding the city of Susanville, is the highest of all the fire districts in the county. That’s $302,211,000. So we’re getting paid $115,000 to protect $300 million in assets.”
Chief Hodgson said the department was able to save money because of the ways the staff helped out with little things. He said they perform their own maintenance and repairs to their vehicles and equipment, as well as doing their own painting. Hodgson said his volunteers also responded regularly to out-of-area fires, in order to supplement the department’s income. When it came to safety equipment however, Hodgson stated adamantly that he “didn’t cut corners when it came to safety.”
“This is the first time I know of where we have asked for money,” said SRFPD volunteer Andy King. “Just to give you an example of the kind of sacrifices we go through, think back to the fire last year on Richmond Road. It burned about 90 acres, including one of our firefighter’s property, Jim Uruburu. He lost at least four classic cars and his pump house. He was just up the road when his stuff was lost, fighting fires threatening another property. But that’s what we do. We do everything we can to protect our neighbors and help the public.”
Many people at the meeting echoed King’s sentiment, voicing their support for the tax measure. One man stood up toward the end of the meeting and told everyone in the packed hall that even if everyone in there voted for it, that still wouldn’t be enough. It would be on the people attending the meeting to go out and try and convince a neighbor, a friend, a relative — to make sure the measure gets passed.
McCarthy later mentioned that before the ballots needed to be in, the SRFPD board had one more meeting where people could get any other questions they had about the tax answered. The next regular meeting of the SRFPD will be at 6:30 a.m. on Monday, August 11. The meeting will also be at the Johnstonville Fire Hall.
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