Supervisors hearing to discuss fire agency, parcel tax

By Joe Naiman

On Tuesday, Aug. 5, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing to determine whether voters should decide in November on the creation of a regional fire protection agency and a parcel tax to support it.

The tax, if approved could generate up to $50 million to pay for fire protection equipment and staffing throughout the region.

What will be debated: the structure of the proposed regional agency, whether the parcel tax will include an annual percentage increase, and whether the proposal will indeed be placed on the November 2008 ballot or deferred to a later election.

"This measure would provide local fire departments with new revenue," said San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, the co-chair of the Regional Fire Protection Committee. "More fires will burn in this region, and this measure will help us be ready when they do."

Supervisor Diane Jacob, who has played a significant role in focusing attention on regional fire safety, said, "We want to do something, but I think it is important to do it right."

The tax is proposed to last for 30 years. The measure must receive two-thirds voter approval to pass.

Because the revenue would be collected with property tax payments, the first revenue would be received in December 2009.

"We have a minimum of two more fire seasons to get through," said Supervisor Ron Roberts, who co-chaired the Regional Fire Protection Committee with Sanders. "It's going to take a while before the money flows."

On July 18, supervisors voted unanimously to accept the final report from the Regional Fire Protection Committee. They directed the county counsel's office to come back Aug. 5 with the documents needed to place the measure on the November ballot, and set the Aug. 5 public hearing.

In addition, they asked that two different ordinances be prepared. Supervisors are legally able to create a hybrid ordinance from the two alternatives, and if needed they could work on an alternative on Aug. 6 so they can meet the Aug. 8 deadline for placing a measure on the November ballot.

"I'd like to try to see if we can put something together," Jacob said.

In January, the supervisors voted to establish the Regional Fire Protection Committee, with nine members - two supervisors, four mayors, and three fire chiefs. The group is charged with assessing and recommending regional fire protection equipment and staffing needs and potential funding sources. The panel is also responsible for considering short-term and long-term options related to a regional fire authority.

In July, the committee came up with a plan for a joint powers agency (JPA) with 21 board members, consisting of one member from each incorporated city, one member of the Board of Supervisors, and two members representing fire protection districts.

The committee also recommended a parcel tax, which would become effective on July 1, 2009, and would be added to property tax bills. It would apply to parcels in both incorporated cities and the unincorporated areas and is estimated to generate $50 million in the first year, with the regional agency receiving half of the funds while the local fire protection agencies getting the other half.

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