Madera County voters say no to public safety tax measure | Fresno Bee

Measure L, Madera County’s one-cent sales tax increase, failed with 56 percent voting against and 44 percent in favor.

The results are unofficial since votes that came in over the last few days remain to be counted.

As of Tuesday night, turnout was 29.5 percent with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

If the measure had passed, Madera County would have been poised to add fire stations in North Fork, Bass Lake and south of Chowchilla near highways 99 and 152. It also would have added firefighters and incentives for firefighting volunteers, as well as sheriff’s patrol deputies.

The unincorporated area’s sales tax would have risen from 7.75 cents per dollar to 8.75 cents per dollar in Oakhurst, Coarsegold, North Fork, Bass Lake and Fairmead, but not the incorporated cities of Madera and Chowchilla.

If approved, 80 percent of the revenue collected over 20 years would have gone for firefighting services – $132 million – and 20 percent for sheriff’s patrol deputies, about $32 million. It would have expired in 2037.

The effort to pass the measure has been underway for more than a year, and the priorities were laid out after consultations with Madera County Fire Department and Cal Fire Merced-Madera-Mariposa Unit leadership. The county also used a 2009 consultant’s study to serve as a guide for future services.

There was added impetus for the Madera County effort as the drought wore on, millions trees of died in the Sierra and devastating fires struck in 2014 and 2015. The fires destroyed dozens of homes and businesses and cost millions of dollars to extinguish.

The Willow Fire in 2015 cost $19 million to fight, burning 5,700 acres and threatening hundreds of homes, while the Junction and Courtney fires in 2014 cost a combined $9.3 million to fight, according to Cal Fire, and destroyed dozens of homes, businesses and vehicles.

In the first year, revenue generated by the sales tax would have added $5 million to a county fire budget that totals $5.6 million for the fiscal year ending in June. When the tax expires in 2037, the tax proceeds would have risen to more than $11 million annually.

John Pero, who opposed the sales tax, said two-thirds approval was a difficult bar to reach.

“A lot of people don’t like taxes, but if it doesn’t even reach 50 percent it would be a pretty big embarrassment for the board of supervisors,” he said.

He also said the measure doesn’t go far enough to fund all the county’s fire needs.

But Bill Ritchey, a Raymond resident and chairman of the committee supporting the sales tax, said the highest priority for new stations were for communities that had the most calls, longest response times and fewest volunteers, known as paid-call firefighters.

If the measure had passed, all existing and new stations would have been staffed with two firefighters. Today, the county’s five stations each have one firefighter.

Two firefighters for each station was part of a recommendation that dates back to a 2009 consultant’s report on fire services prepared for the county.

The proposal also would have paid for incentives, such as clothing and training allowance, to add more paid-call firefighters.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

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t_2olyCL.jpg?v=21 Chowchilla News Day
Chowchilla Patriot

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