County Residents To Get Another Shot At Rescinding Fire Tax In June Election

More than three years after the county board of supervisors used its administrative authority to bypass the county’s voters and place roughly 94 percent of the county’s land mass within a fire assessment district, a group of governmental accountability activists achieved a milestone in its second effort to rescind the $161.98 annual tax imposed on the landowners in the county’s unincorporated areas that was a consequence of the board’s 2018 action.
Previously, fire protection in the county’s unincorporated areas – those places where the city and town limits of the county’s 22 cities and two incorporated towns do not extend – was part of the service provided through county government’s routine function. In 2018, then-County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig, asserting that the traditional methods of taxation and revenue generation for local government were no longer adequate to ensure the county fire department was sufficiently manned, outfitted and prepared to ensure the public safety, led a move to place all of the unincorporated county areas his department serviced within a fire protection assessment zone, known as FP-5, originally formed to defray the cost of providing enhanced fire and paramedic service to the desert communities of Silverlakes and Helendale in 2006.
Though California’s Proposition 218 required that any new tax must be approved by a vote of those who must pay for it, the county used a protest vote process to gain clearance to enlarge FP-5 to cover the roughly 18,899 square miles of unincorporated areas within the 20,105-square mile county. Residents were sent notices of the district’s expansion and were invited to object to it. Those who sent in letters of protest were deemed to have voted against being included in the enlarged FP-5, Those who did not respond were deemed to have supported being brought into FP-5. If 25 percent had protested, the matter would have been taken to an actual vote in which landowners would cast traditional straightforward yes or no ballots to determine whether to allow or disallow the assessment district expansion. If 50 percent plus one or more had voted in opposition, the district expansion would have been considered rejected. Less than three percent of the unincorporated county landowners returned letters of protest.
The Red Brennan Group, asserting the protest process was a backhanded method of securing support for FP-5’s expansion, collected enough signatures to place an initiative on the November 2020 Ballot. Measure U asked county voters if they wanted to repeal the enlargement of FP-5 and end its taxing authority. Measure U was defeated, with 109,483 votes in favor of it, or 47.97 percent and 118,772 votes against it, or 52.03 percent.
The Red Brennan Group, believing county resident sentiment may have changed, has again collected sufficient signatures to place another measure seeking to free all of the county other than Helendale and Silverlakes from inclusion in FP-5 and the imposition of its $161.98 per parcel per year fire protection tax.
On Tuesday, the board of supervisors, faced with a sufficient number of county voters having signed petitions calling for the measure to go before the county’s voters, consented to putting the initiative on the countywide ballot in the June primary election.

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