Two measures to increase taxes in local fire districts in Calaveras County each fell short by about 3% in Calaveras County’s Aug. 25 special election. The elections office will continue to count any ballots received between now and Friday, but Clerk-Recorder Rebecca Turner said she doesn’t expect any additional ballots to change the results of the election.
Less than 42% of eligible voters in each district turned out.
With the latest results, fire protection districts in San Andreas and West Point join Central Calaveras Fire and Rescue Protection District in failing to find funding through a proposed special tax increase in recent years. The percentage of votes received on measures in all three districts were around 63%, just 3% shy of the two-thirds of voters needed to pass.
Measure A, which would have established a special annual tax of $300 on property owners in the San Andreas Fire Protection District, has garnered 532 “Yes” votes – just 63.6% of the 836 voters participating. There are approximately 2,174 registered voters in the district.
The district was seeking an additional $560,000 per year to sustain staffing levels at its station, along with the equipment, facilities, training program, insurance and other systems “necessary to protect lives, homes and businesses.”
Without new funding, the district will be unable to maintain its current levels of service. The district has strived to staff at least three firefighters at the station in San Andreas, but now, “we’re not going to be able to sustain that,” said Board Vice President Dana Nichols. “It breaks my heart that we might not be able to respond to a call one day.”
Nichols said he was grateful for how many people supported the campaign with phone calls, sign postings and donations.
Part of the challenge in getting broad support for the tax increase was likely due to financial challenges for a community with many people living on limited incomes, Nichols said.
The board will meet in mid-September to determine next steps.
“We’re going to work together to do the best we can,” he said.
In the West Point Fire Protection District, Measure C would have increased the existing special parcel tax by $180. The measure, which would have raised approximately $350,000 annually to maintain current staffing levels on the district’s single fire engine and allow an adjustment of up to 3% annually to account for inflation, failed with about 63% voter approval.
There are 1,486 eligible voters in the district, but only 592 ballots were received.
With the measure failing, District Boardmember Kirk Smith said the district has been left with some “tough decisions.”
“If you don’t have adequate resources to comply with current laws and regulations, there are things you have to do so you operate in a safe fashion,” Smith said, with reference to complying with minimum wage and hour laws. “To not do so would be negligent.”
The news is especially disconcerting given the number of wildfires currently burning around the state, Smith said.
Two fire engines out of West Point are assisting on fires outside the district, but without additional funding, that may not be a possibility in the future, he said.
“What do you do going forward when you can’t even man one engine?” Smith said.
He said the only alternative for fire agencies is to consider how to consolidate resources with each other or the state to see if there’s a “minimalist” response possible.
“We’re left with a small dime, and we’re going to try to do the most we can with it to serve the public, but we know it’s not enough to continue current levels of service.”
The third measure on the ballot passed with approval from 23 of 27 property owners in the Lynn Park Community Services District. With Measure B, the district was seeking $15,000 of annual funding for road maintenance.
Final results will be posted to the county website Friday, and the elections office will likely certify the election Sept. 5, Turner said.