Fire Protection Sales Tax Initiative Begins Circulation in Calaveras County
CALAVERAS COUNTY – Volunteers in October began collecting signatures 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.
The Calaveras Local Fire Protection Tax Initiative, if qualified for the ballot and then approved by voters, would generate an estimated $5 million per year to fund improved staffing in the county’s ten local fire agencies – nine fire districts and one municipal fire department.
Proponents say it is getting harder to keep volunteer firefighters here as many are forced to move away to earn a living, often getting hired by Cal Fire or by big-city departments outside the county.
“Right now the county has a number of stations that are either vacant or staffed something less than 24/7,” said Dana Nichols of San Andreas, one of the four proponents. “This funding would make it possible for even the smallest agencies to either hire paid firefighters or significantly improve their incentives for volunteers,” he said.
Even those agencies that do have some paid firefighters on duty 24/7 don’t have enough paid firefighters to meet the National Fire Protection Association Standard of four firefighters per engine, or even 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 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 the signatures of 2,161 Calaveras County voters by February 22. That number represents 10 percent of the number of ballots cast in Calaveras County in the last gubernatorial election in 2018. The measure would most likely go before voters in November, 2022.
“Very supportive,” campaign volunteer Gina Gonzales said of the reaction she’s received while gathering signatures at a shopping center in Angels Camp. “People say this should have been done a long time ago.”
Gonzales also said 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.
Nichols said the campaign is looking for 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,” he said.
For more information, or to volunteer or donate, go to the campaign website at calaveraslfp.org or call Nichols at 209-768-9072.