Susan River Fire District tax measure defeated
Out of the 2,344 registered voters within Susan River’s district, 857 votes were cast, which Nagel said was about 36 percent of the registered voters. 547 voted in favor of the measure, while 309 voted against. By Nagel’s calculations, the district needed roughly 19 more votes in favor of the measure in order for it to have passed.
SRFPD boardmember Jim McCarthy said if the measure passed, it would have generated between $90,000-$95,000 a year for the district which currently takes in about $115,000 in tax revenues.
The SRFPD board ratified and accepted the results of the election at a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 27, a day after the final day of the election.
During the meeting, the board talked about the eventual consequences of the $7,000 election, along with some of the tough choices the board now has to make in its subsequent meetings.
“I think we’re going to need to delve right into where we’re going to have to downsize this department,” said boardmember Jim Hardy. “We’re going to need to find areas that we can curtail completely.”
McCarthy agreed there were going to be some tough decisions for the board to make in the coming weeks, from recuperating costs to which programs need to be cut.
Susan River Firefighter Hugh Parker said the cash flow into the district is so bad that there are two volunteers being trained right now that might not be able to stay, simply because the district will not be able to give them the appropriate gear. He explained that when the state mandated certain safety standards, they must be followed by all fire departments; it didn’t care whether a particular district had the funds to do so or not. One of those state mandates has to do with wildland fire gear. Through a grant Parker was able to obtain, he said the state would pay half for the new clothing for each firefighter, leaving the SRFPD with a bill of more than $4,000. Parker said he didn’t believe the district would even be able to afford that.
“The morale among the guys (fellow volunteers) is pretty low right now,” Parker said. “Everyone is disappointed. While I don’t see anyone leaving because of this, it still puts a lot of pressure on our volunteers, some of which are paying expenses out of their own pockets.”
Parker said the volunteers receive a stipend at the end of each year to offset some of the fuel costs. Without the money from the tax measure, he believes that stipend might disappear, adding further pressure to the volunteers.
Board president Randy Darrow also brought up the issue of Insurance Services Office ratings. Essentially, ISO ratings serve as a benchmark on how much people in a certain area pay for fire insurance. A lower ISO rating means a person is living in an area with better overall fire protection, which in turn means lower payments to insurance companies. Darrow said without the extra funds from the tax measure, people might have to start paying more in insurance.
“I see no way that this (tax not passing) won’t affect the ISO ratings,” Darrow said.
As for suggestions on how the district might be able to save money, McCarthy suggested ideas like charging Lassen County for using the Johnstonville Fire Hall as a polling place for elections. Other events, such as the Kiddie Ride or riding in parades might also have to be suspended, because the money simply won’t be there.
All of the boardmembers agreed that at some point in the near future, it would have to reintroduce the tax measure to the voters in the county. Boardmember Tom Mower said the board would need to focus on the more than 1,500 registered voters who didn’t show up for this election.
McCarthy said this wouldn’t put the SRFPD out of commission; it just forces it into a tough spot in planning for the future.
“We were so close,” McCarthy said. “It was pretty nerve racking toward the end. We will still respond to as many fires in our area as we can, but this definitely hurts our capacity to be fully prepared.”
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