Morongo Valley Voters To Consider $350 Per Parcel Fire Assessment On June Ballot

By a four-to-one vote, the Morongo Valley Community Services District Board of Directors last week called for a public election in June on a proposed $350 annual parcel tax to cover the operational costs of the local fire department. Director Karen Lowe, who was slightly over two years into her first term on the board, cast the single vote against holding the election. To emphasize her opposition, she resigned from the board, effective at once.
At present, Morongo Valley landowners are already subject to a fire-service related assessment. That taxing regime, in place since it was passed in 2002, is not uniform and varies with regard to the degree of improvements on the property. The current assessment for an unimproved lot can be as low as ten dollars per year and ranges upward to $160 for a fully improved lot with structures in place.
The tax proposal, which requires two-thirds approval to pass, will go before Morongo Valley voters at the June 7 primary election. It would institute a flat $350 per parcel tax, irrespective of improvements. It will need two-thirds approval to pass. If it fails, the existing assessments will remain in effect.
Don Krouse, the chairman of the Citizens Committee for a Fire Tax, told the Sentinel, “The fire tax measure is strictly for funding the operations of the firefighters and advanced life support paramedics of Morongo Valley. The tax will eliminate the existing fire assessment. For improved properties the total increase is not $350 but about $200 more pet year. The primary benefit goes to the citizens of Morongo Valley. Without our own fire department, emergency services will not be locally administered but instead centralized out of San Bernardino.”
Krouse acknowledged that “Fire taxes are lower in incorporated communities,” but asserted, “Morongo Valley does not qualify for incorporation due to the small population. Other communities that are unincorporated may have small tax amounts but that is also the result of a larger number of property parcels that divide the cost over many more payers. It really becomes a math calculation that ties the costs of maintaining services spread among all parcels.”
He said he believed defraying the cost of adequate service through the assessments was the community’s best option.
“The State of California could provide services through CalFire [the California Division of Forestry], but that comes with higher costs to Morongo Valley property owners,” Krouse said. “San Bernardino County Fire could annex Morongo Valley. That also comes with much higher costs to the citizens. The possibility always exists that Morongo Valley voters will reject any emergency services if they have to pay but in that case the negative impact on insurance costs, property values, and lost lives will be significant.”
Krouse granted that the odds were stacked against the assessment measure.
“Viability of any tax measure always means that steep walls of objections stand in the way of passage,” he said. “Because California requires new taxes to be approved by two-thirds of the voters, the opposition has a huge leg up and it certainly puts success in serious question. The point remains that, whether this is a realistic endeavor or not, the important question is simply whether the community sees that benefits clearly outweigh the negatives. In the end, the winning side will own the consequences, good or bad.”
With regard to Lowe’s resignation, Krouse said, “I find it disturbing that she could not voice her opposition and continue to serve. We generally don’t see elected officials resigning when a vote goes against them on an issue. Furthermore, she may not agree, but a vote against letting the voters decide seems a bit disrespectful. This issue has been staring Morongo Valley in the face for quite some time. The county’s local agency formation commission will close down the fire and paramedic operations if we do not increase revenues.”
Krouse sought to remind the community that the firefighters in Morongo Valley are paid far less than there counterparts elsewhere.
“Our firefighters don’t earn the high salaries paid through the state or county,” he said. “One’s values come into question when they believe that the people who save our lives and property should earn so little and without retirement benefits either. When Walmart raises their minimum salary to $15 an hour, our firefighters could earn more there.”
Krouse said, “The bottom line is as follows: Approve the Morongo Valley fire tax and pay $350 per parcel. Let San Bernardino County Fire annex Morongo Valley and pay $635 or $853 depending on the level of staffing, or pay exorbitant insurance premiums and see property values drop because we have no emergency services.”
In fiscal year 2014-15, the existing assessment netted $300,825, which was 40.5 percent of the $742,443 cost of running the fire department. Calculations are that if the new assessment is put in place, it would generate $913,000 in 2017.

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