Volunteers began collecting signatures last month for a ballot initiative that would ask Calaveras County voters to approve a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase to fund local fire protection agencies.
Proponents say the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Tax initiative, if it qualifies for the ballot and is approved by voters, would generate an estimated $5 million annually to fund improved staffing at the county’s 10 fire agencies (nine fire districts and one municipal fire department.)
Achieving and maintaining adequate staffing levels has been a growing issue among rural California fire districts, which struggle to offer a living wage comparable to that of Cal Fire and urban fire departments.
A few local fire districts have been able to maintain limited staffing via tax measures—most recently, the San Andreas Fire Protection District (SAFPD), where voters approved property tax increases to fund stipends to keep volunteer firefighters at their station 24/7.
“Right now the county has a number of stations that are either vacant or staffed something less than 24/7,” Dana Nichols, Vice President for the SAFPD and one of four proponents of the new tax initiative said in a press release. “This funding would make it possible for even the smallest agencies to either hire paid firefighters or significantly improve their incentives for volunteers.”
According to Nichols, those agencies that do have some paid firefighters on duty 24/7 do not have enough paid firefighters to meet the National Fire Protection Association Standard of four firefighters per engine, or the minimum standard of three.
“Even the best funded fire agency in the county—Ebbetts Pass—has a vacant station that would, if staffed, significantly reduce response times in parts of that district,” Nichols said.
The new tax initiative would not only utilize revenue from locals shopping locally, but also the many tourists who visit the county and may need emergency services but “don’t contribute all that much to fire taxes,” Nichols told the Enterprise.
The four proponents of the measure are Nichols, Robert T. Dean, of Mokelumne Hill, and Skip and Shannon Sharp, of Mountain Ranch. Along with Faith Hall of Valley Springs, they also make up the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Committee that is organizing the campaign.
To qualify for the ballot, the campaign must collect 2,161 signatures from Calaveras County voters by Feb. 22. The measure would most likely go before voters in November 2022.
Campaign volunteer Gina Gonzales said that people have been “very supportive” in her efforts to gather signatures in Angels Camp. “People say this should have been done a long time ago,” she added.
Gonzales also said in the press release that many voters have questions and are often not familiar with how local fire agencies train and recruit firefighters. “A lot of people don’t know they are (mostly) volunteers and don’t get paid,” she said.
The campaign is currently seeking volunteers to gather signatures in all areas of the county.
“You can have a petition party with friends or take it to the next meeting of your service club or other group,” Nichols said.
For more information, or to volunteer or donate, go to the campaign website at calaveraslfp.org or call Nichols at 209-768-9072.