Supervisors place firefighting tax on ballot


By James R. Riffel

City News Service

San Diego County residents will vote in November on a proposed $52 parcel tax to fund countywide firefighting efforts, the Board of Supervisors decided unanimously on Aug. 6.

If approved by two-thirds of voters, the money would raise an estimated $50 million, with half going to local fire departments and fire protection districts and the other half toward purchasing new equipment.

Passage of the measure would also create a regional fire protection agency made up of San Diego County, the 18 cities in the region and the fire protection districts.

The levy would be placed on most houses, commercial buildings and industrial properties in the county.

“This is the phoenix growing out of the ashes of the (2003 and 2007) fires,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts, who helped lead a commission that came up with the plan. “There’s nobody in San Diego who doesn’t want something done.’”

While some opposition to the measure was expressed at a public hearing last Tuesday, there was none the following day. In fact, a group of county firefighters who spoke out against the plan previously came on board at the meeting and said they would work to get the proposition passed.

Opponents were concerned that the measure has few specifics on how the money will be spent and that voters already facing higher prices for fuel and food will have to decide between a number of tax hikes and bond issues on this fall’s ballot.

“There might be little things (about the plan) people can question,” Roberts said.

Board Chairman Greg Cox said the disastrous wildfires over the past five years displayed “room for improvement” in the region’s firefighting capabilities.

“This is a regional problem and it demands a regional solution,” Cox said.

The new equipment and improved coordination will help make the county better prepared for the next firestorm, Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

Having newly purchased fire trucks and aerial tankers under the control of the county, so they can respond quickly to emergencies, will also be helpful, the supervisors said.