EDITORIAL: THE PROPOSED BAD NEW FIRE FEE (TAX)

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By Bob Cederdahl

 

May 28, 2009 (La Mesa)--I believe it is in the community's best interest to vote NO on the Benefit Assessment District proposed by the San Miguel Fire District. It is unreasonable. Here’s why:

1) The San Miguel Consolidated Fire Protection District's Board may be controlled by the fire fighter's union. I believe that the Board's view does not properly represent the views of the citizens of Spring Valley, Rancho San Diego, Mt. Helix, El Cajon & surrounding area. We have little to NO power as time after time, firefighters or their representatives are elected. They now have a SUPER majority on the Board. This is unreasonable.

 

2) 2 years ago the District increased our tax burden with a business fire inspection fee. Tens of thousands of dollars have been removed from our business community and we have lost many businesses, homes, and jobs. Our very way of life is threatened. We just can’t afford more, yet labor has not taken a direct pay cut. This is unreasonable.

 

3) However, they want more money from us ($1.3 million & even more) through a Benefit Assessment District. This is a BAD idea and is merely a way of getting around California’s Prop 13. This is unreasonable.

 

4) I deeply appreciate our fire fighters. But they are well paid already and DO have the means to help the community as we struggle to survive. When you add salaries, benefits & overtime, each employee (about 98) receives an average of $161,000 per year! The math is in: The $1,581,747 the district claims it needs to man Truck Co. 15 would pay the salaries of 7-1/2 U. S. Supreme Court justices (including the chief justice). Surely, this is unreasonable. If they just take a temporary pay cut or pay ½ of their own benefits, there would be no need for this new tax. As you may know, the city of San Diego FF's union took a 6% cut. So can San Miguel. In addition, when you add Director's benefits and wages, each of the Directors receive over $20,000 per year for just a few hours work each month. Some may even be double-dipping. This is unreasonable. They, too, can take a cut to help us through these troubling economic times.

 

5) This is a NEW tax and is in addition to property taxes you already pay. It will appear on your tax bill & grow EVERY year FOREVER. This is unreasonable.

 

6) The amount each property owner pays depends on property owned ranging from about $42 to hundreds of dollars. I do not yet know the top amount. Even schools & water districts will pay this tax! This is unreasonable.

 

7) They will NOT ask voters to vote as this method requires a two-thirds majority. The District knows it will not pass with two-thirds, so they are asking all property owners via a MAILED BALLOT. This method only requires 50% + 1 vote to pass of the ballots that are received. This is unreasonable

 

8) Votes will be weighted depending on how much property you own. A large property owner's vote will be equal to several single family homes. So, if your agree with me, be certain to mail your ballot in.

 

9) There is a built-in escalator clause with NO top end & WILL grow year after year. This is unreasonable.

 

10) There is NO sunset clause. This is a FOREVER tax. Even when the economy improves, we will STILL have this new tax. This is unreasonable.

 

11) The District has hired a consultant firm (www.sci-cg.com). They will control how ballots go out, how & by whom ballots are counted. I have NOT been assured these results will be accurate or audited by a neutral third party. This is unreasonable.

 

12) The District cannot by law spend their own funds to support this tax but they don't have to because it is now on record: The fire chief asked the union to be sure to man the phone banks. As they have done in the past, this is likely to include spending BIG union bucks to assure they win. Please don’t fall for their usual scare tactics. Please vote NO on this new tax


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Comments

Rise and fall of the Crest fire district

. There will always be an easy solution. Raise taxes. 11 cents a day! 42 dollars a year! "Just quit going to Starbucks,” the accountant will tell you. But what if I don't go to Starbucks? What if I live within my means and have to deal with a relative that always needs a couple bucks "just to get him thru." How come the departments never ask for volunteers? If the greater community is to be served, ask that community for service.

Did you ever notice that after the departments got organized the fires got larger and more out of control. And the only solution was more money.

You need your car but you would switch mechanics if he couldn't fix your brakes within your budget. The new shop not only would have to fit your budget, they would also have to give you a product you felt safe with. And you accept your budget being changed because of the necessity of the fire services. Brakes on are car are very necessary!

Crest taxed business out of existence in the Bostonia area of their district. Property taxes went up three separate times in a 12-year period and fixed nothing. Shops were taxed on a laundry list of items. If they needed more money, add a new item.

The 1st increase was minimal to business parcels and nil too residential parcels. The 2nd was $25 to residential and $250 to business parcels. The 3rd was $250 to residential and $250 per 1/10 acre to business.
1 acre in Crest (which burns in wild fires) = $250; 1 acre in Bostonia (surrounded by city) $2500.

The last one was approved by voters who were then shocked to find out San Miguel was poised to take over their district.

With the inequitable tax and it's massive revenue it is no wonder San Miguel District hired the same company, www.sci-cg.com, which was supposed to save the Crest/Bostonia district.

Crest can't reverse the poorly thought out tax scheme because the whole district (San Miguel) can now vote to keep taxes higher on them instead of forgoing their "Starbucks" in the name of fairness.

Not only should you vote NO you should look into the hiring of a firm that did not have the best interest of their last client in your area, the now gone Crest/Bostonia District

Thanks for the tip, Fire.

If you have any sources associated with the now defunct Crest/Bostonia district who might be available to talk on the record, or if you have access to any data or files documenting the history on this, please send an email to editor@eastcountymagazine.org or call 619-698-7617.

Another side of the story?

In the wake of steep state budget cuts, failure to approve the fire parcel assessment will mean a sharp reduction in fire protection for our community, according to the San Miguel Firefighters. If voters don't pass this measure, we could see closure of engine companies and a reduction in response times, they warn. Scare tactic or truth?

I have not had a chance yet to fully review this proposal and the history of this district. But my initial reaction is this: If your house is burning down, is fewer firefighters really what you want? To me, assuring decent fire protection is worth paying less than a dollar week.

I disagree with the assertion that we should lay off firefighters or cut pensions for rank and file firefighters. Many firefighters are heroes. They do hard, dangerous work, saving lives and protecting our properties. We should be willing to pay them, not punish them.

I've been writing about wildfires in this region for over a decade. What we need is more manpower and better fire protection--not cuts in staffing. Having too few firefighters per engine puts THEIR lives in danger. Cutting engines puts OUR properties at risk. When we had a small fire at our home years ago, San Miguel Firefighters were there within minutes. They also saved a neighbor in a separate fire. Whatever faults there may be with the bureaucracy as some claim, the fact is that it only takes minutes for a small fire to enfulf a home. Cutting firefighters could prove penny-wise, pound-foolish.

If your home burns down because nobody can get there in time, you may be wishing you'd spent the very small amount asked for in this parcel assessment measure. Sometimes people get what they pay for.

I published the above editorial from a reader in our spirit of fairness and airing all views. Please feel free to weigh into this "fiery" debate with your opinions and any pertinent facts.

Wildfire

Thirty six people have died and thousands of homes destroyed in the last five years by Wildfires in San Diego's East County. We pay 1/20th of what Orange county pays for fire protection. East County is roughly the same size as Orange County with more people. Out of California's 58 counties San Diego is the only one without a County Fire Department of its own. During the 2007 wildfires 500,000 thousand people were evacuated from their homes - the largest singe evacuation in the nations history. Yes, more even than Katrina!

However Mr. Cederdahl doesn't want an increase in his property tax. That would not be in the spirit of Proposition 13 he claims. Perhaps prop 13 needs to be circumvented - prop 13 has handcuffed the State and is the core problem behind our huge budget deficit.

It doesn't bother Mr. Cederdahl that the people who can least afford it are saddled with the cost of fire protection and those can are exempt in spite of the fact that we are home to some of the most devastating fires in the State's history.

So what we have is essentially a skeleton-crew of incredibly courageous fire fighters doing their best with the resources they have, each fire station covering twice the square miles as the national average.

CalFires has a 1.3 million dollar shortfall in its budget and had to cut $800,000.00 from its payroll with pink-slips to the men we need to protect us and closed yet another fire station.

How many more lives will be lost before we realize that we all must pay our fair share. Forty-two dollars per year per homeowner is a few weeks without Starbucks but we have to rise to the occasion and meet the coming firestorms with a sense of community responsibility. We elected a Fire Board that knows what is needed to better protect us all and I for one say - let's give them the tools they need.

East County Homeowner

A Fiery debate

East County Homeowner - Thanks for sharing your views. You are correct that San Diego spends far less per person on fire protection than Orange County or Los Angeles. We also fail to meet federal minimum standards for the number of fire stations per capita.

The challenge for districts such as San Miguel is since our County has no countywide fire department (though steps are being taken to move in that direction) the district's engines are dispatched to fight backcountry wildfires, leaving local residents vulnerable should a fire strike their home or business while the district's firetrucks are elsewhere.

Taxpayers are indeed feeling a pinch in this economy. At the same time, is pinching pennies on fire safety a strategy that may cost us all more in the long run?

We welcome thoughtful editorials from others with knowledgeable or insights on this issue, including fire officials.