Proposition 172 provides funding for local law enforcement and local fire protection. There is an interesting Web site that discusses the law’s history at www.californiacityfinance.com/Prop172facts06.pdf.
The 172 sales tax replaced an expiring sales tax. Eligible departments for funds include sheriff, police, fire, district attorney, corrections and ocean lifeguard. The board of supervisors allocates the funds among eligible local departments.
In most counties, there is a reasonable split of 172 funds between law enforcement and fire protection. In San Francisco, the split has been about 50 percent each. Other counties have varying amounts dedicated to fire operations. For example (decimals rounded): Marin — 12 percent, San Luis Obispo — 11 percent, Kings — 18 percent, Monterey — 9 percent, Kern — 10 percent, etc.
In Santa Cruz County, something outrageous has happened. The board of supervisors has decided that a minimum of Proposition 172’s $15 million in sales tax funding will be allocated to its own rural fire protection department (County Fire CSA 48). This fiscal year, the amount of 172 funds allocated for County Fire is zero. During the previous two fiscal years, the amounts were only 0.6 percent and 0.4 percent. The board of supervisors is, by choice, starving to death its own rural fire protection department. This way, the county can cry poor mouth while seeking a tax increase.
In addition to the 172 sales taxes, rural folks not living in a fire district (or in an incorporated city) also pay about $125 per year in County Fire CSA 48 fees per house, as well as a significant portion of their 1 percent base property taxes, to support local fire protection. All three of these tax streams are supposed to be used to support local rural fire protection. Only two of these tax streams are being properly used. Proposition 172 funds are 100 percent missing-in-action for local rural fire protection.
Since the board of supervisors has hijacked the Proposition 172 sales tax funds from fire protection, the board now expects folks who want year-round rural fire protection to pay even more for it, even though they have already paid for it in three separate tax streams. (Rural folks pay sales taxes, too, when they shop in the towns and cities!)
I am not talking here about wildland fire protection. Cal Fire is supported by existing state taxes for wildland response. Cal Fire is responsible for wildland fires year-round in most of our county.
In 2007, the board of supervisors asked the voters for an increase in taxes for County Fire CSA 48. The voters turned it down. Now, in 2010, the board of supervisors appears ready to call another tax increase election. In 2007, it was threatened that one or more rural fire stations would have to close if a tax increase were not approved. However, the election failed, and yet no stations were closed.
In fact, the seasonal Cal Fire station previously located in Felton was relocated to Bonny Doon and operated year-round, at a cost estimated to be nearly $300,000 for the first year. It is improper for the board of supervisors to deliberately underfund its fire fighting operations, plead poverty and then seek a tax increase, while threatening that stations will be closed without the increase.
What would make more sense than a tax increase? It is simple: a fair and proper allocation of the Proposition 172 sales tax funds by the board of supervisors. Rural fire protection deserves much more funding than zero, and it is time for the county to stop using scare tactics and threats in its quest for more taxes.
• Steve Homan is a retired registered environmental health specialist who has lived in Bonny Doon since 1976.