By Bay City News Service- Voters in Sonoma County on the March 3 ballot will consider a half-cent sales tax that would raise $51 million annually to supplement existing services by the county’s 38 fire agencies.
Under Measure G, 90 percent of the tax proceeds will go to incorporated and unincorporated fire agencies for alerts, warnings, sirens, vegetation management, response, wildfire prevention and preparedness, recruitment and retention of firefighters, equipment and facilities.
The Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will share 10 percent of the tax revenue for other response and prevention needs and consolidating the fire agencies.
Annual estimated revenue increases are $25.8 million for independent fire districts, $7.8 million for County Service Area 40, and the cities of Santa Rosa, Petaluma Rohnert Park, Sebastopol Healdsburg and Sonoma will share around $12.3 million of the annual revenue.
Fire agencies and districts, excluding the cities, will receive the tax proceeds if they work toward regional consolidation to achieve efficient, effective and sustainable services in the county. Consolidation reviews will take place once every three years.
The special half-cent tax requires two-thirds approval, and the tax revenue will not supplant a fire agency’s general fund revenue from property and parcel taxes.
Jason Boaz, president of the Sonoma County Fire Chiefs Association and other fire chiefs in the county said Measure G will allow for the hiring of approximately 200 additional firefighters and fire prevention officers to provide around-the-clock services.
Michael Hilber, who is running for the county’s District 5 supervisor seat, opposes the half-cent tax as too much in view of the parcel and property taxes revenue fire agencies already receive. Hilburn says a quarter-cent tax would be adequate.
Hilber also believes too much tax revenue goes to large, unionized city fire departments and not to the county’s volunteer fire agencies.