Community conversation is opening up around the topic of the upcoming ballot Measure B, the Portola Volunteer Fire Department Special Tax for Fire Protection and Emergency Response, which proposes to raise taxes after a period of 32 years with no tax hikes.
The discussion begins with an argument in favor of Measure B, drawn up collectively by Ron Jacobson, Jr., Long Valley Charter School principal; Cal Patterson, Measure B working group chair; William (Doug) Weaver, business owner; Ray Donnenwirth, retired educator; and Richard John Bass, semi-retired teacher.
Argument in favor of Measure B
The argument states, “We [the undersigned Portola citizens and taxpayers] support Ballot Measure B, a tax that will provide adequate funding for the city of Portola Volunteer Fire Department. The Department serves us all with fire protection, prevention, and suppression; emergency, medical and rescue; hazardous materials; and natural disaster emergency response.
“Although the proposed increase may sound irresponsibly high, the truth of the matter is that after years of an unrealistically low tax along with dramatic increases in the cost of equipment, supplies and services, there is an urgent need to provide additional funding for the Portola Volunteer Fire Department.
“Measure B takes the responsible step forward to provide the revenues necessary for the city of Portola to ensure that quality services which meet current standards are provided to its citizens and visitors.
“Please join us in supporting our emergency responders with a tax of only $0.41 per day. Vote for Measure B.”
Argument against Measure B
The argument against the fire tax measure comes from Leah Turner, local property owner.
The argument opens, “My name is Leah Turner and I am a property owner in the city of Portola, and I live at 280 W. Plumas Avenue with my husband Austin Turner. I am in agreement that the city of Portola needs to collect higher taxes to support the local fire department, but I believe that asking for an increase to $150 [annually] from the current rate of $12.52 is an outrageous increase for such a depressed area, where most residents live at or below poverty level.
“The majority of your residents are on fixed incomes, and an increase to $150 might mean that person may not be able to afford food, rent, utilities or medications for that month when the taxes are due.
“I believe that this increase should be gradual and increase over a five year period, like the water rates were increased. I feel that our department needs proper training to give the community quality protection, but our residents can’t afford this high of an increase all at once.
“I do not believe this measure will pass, and the city will be wasting the taxpayers money for a special election, and you should reconsider this amount if you want it to pass and benefit the fire department and its residents.”
Measure B committee response
The Measure B Special Tax for Fire Protection and Emergency Response committee responded to Turner’s concerns, stating, “It’s reassuring that the thoughtfully written argument against Measure B acknowledges the need for and supports higher taxes to sustain our local volunteer fire department. The question then, is whether the amount and timing of the increase is reasonable and deserving of broad public support.”
The committee went on to state that the city council appointed an ad-hoc committee for the Fire Assessment Safety Tax in June 2016, comprised of two council members, seven members of the public and city staff. After a number of meetings to investigate the current conditions of the fire department, the financial needs and current fire tax, Measure B was written, presented to a public forum and adopted by the city council.
Detailed budgets were evaluated and questioned, with the “very basic Chevy version” of the tax selected, which requires the $150 tax.
The committee stated, “The financial burden on low- and fixed-income citizens was carefully weighed, but unfortunately the need is immediate, and the cost to provide adequate services is not a respecter of incomes.”
Taking a look into the reasonableness of the amount proposed, the committee surveyed tax rates in surrounding communities for comparison.
The community conversation continues as the date that ballots will be mailed out — May 8 — draws closer. For more information or to continue the conversation, contact committee chair Cal Patterson at 386-3801 or by email at [email protected].