Support the fire district fee increase (repeated)

Editor’s notes: I’m reposting this Nov. 9 editorial on a proposed local fire assessment, since it’s getting more attention now — in social media and the “pay wall” media.

Ballots will be mailed on February 6. Ballots must be received by March 6, and the results will be announced on March 15.

This measure will only become law if 67 percent of the voters approve the measure — a high hurdle because so many of our community voices (including the “leaders”) have been so adamant about bashing government and bashing taxes.

It’s reached the point of mindless rhetoric in some instances, and it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

Local opinion on important community issues like this doesn’t belong behind a “pay wall”; it belongs in the open where people can discuss it — and learn about it.

Background on the issue is here. Here’s what I wrote in November, before the decision to put the tax on the ballot:

The Nevada County Consolidated Fire District is expected to ask voters to approve a property owners’ assessment — $52 annually for a single dwelling — because of an $870,000 deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

It will pit the district against the “no tax,” “anti-government,” “get off my land” mindset that still is prevalent here.

Trouble is, we are highly susceptible to wildfires. When people move to unincorporated rural areas, they have to expect to pay for services — just like the sewage treatment problems our county’s residents don’t seem to want to face.

The cost increases that the district faces — worker’s compensation, insurance, public retirement and the like — is a state (not district) problem.

Let’s hope that calmer heads prevail. The board will vote on Nov. 17 whether to put the tax on the ballot.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

15 thoughts on “Support the fire district fee increase (repeated)”

  1. I live on Banner Mountain, make it $100 a year (it’s really what they need to “not” come back in a few years). $1 or 2 dollars a week? OK!

    Renters, though not property owners, will be asked to vote, and this fee might be passed on to them, should they vote yes. Fire and EMT protection is in their best interest, and I would hope they agree.

    I hope voters will agree to this, the “pay wall paper” has already come out with the usual Ackermanism’s, but as mentioned above, residents need to face these issues. They are not going away—
    unless by fire-

  2. We spend thousands every year, improving our fight fighting gear (50 feet of hose is $120 in the 1 1/2 inch size with couplings), and in sweat equity clearing brush, and in gravel for fire proof terracing.. More than happy to support additional taxes, we need all the help we can get.

  3. I’m for it. I think it is money well spent. I don’t resent paying the firefighters a good salary, benefits, pension, either. They deserve it. They put their lives on the line to save people and property. They need good equipment and training, too. No one wants to see a firefighter hurt because we didn’t give them the right safety equipment.

  4. I am all for this even thought my house will not burn…..

    My concern it that all of my neighbors homes will, so do I want to lose my great neighbors because I did not contribute towards this fund?


    I will gladly support my community even though it does not directly benefit me!

  5. Interesting point about The Union’s “pay wall” as it pertains to coverage of this issue:
    “Comment From Helene
    I agree with Jeff Ackerman’s assessment of the proposed county fire tax in light of the $150 tax bill the state will be sending us. One would think if Jeff wants to get the word out with his opinion, the article should not be on pay-per-view.”

  6. Perhaps there is a balance here, as I just got my amended property tax statement, and yes my house is now worth even less. But, as a result my property tax bill has been lowered to more than offset any fire assessment.

  7. Using the boundary shapefile from the Nevada County GIS data download site for fire districts, selecting out NCC district, overlaying fire threat data from CALFIRE, its easy to see with spatial data what everybody around here knows, that fire district is high risk for a large catastrophic fire, given the right weather conditions.

    CALFIRE has all these categories in their spatial data that include: THREAT, THREAT2PEOPLE, FROTCLASS (fire rotation class), FUELRANK, and that is just one dataset. Displaying the data by any of those columns shows most of this area in high and very high categories. That took me about 20 minutes. I’d bet, with one days effort I could have spreadsheets of parcel numbers for who lives in what kinds of threat categories. If I can do stuff like that so easily, I can only imagine what a room full of GIS people back in Bloomington Illinois at State Farm Insurance headquarters with advanced degrees in Geography and spatial analysis could come up with.

    And guess what, I’d bet the risk analysis folks at all the insurance companies follow current events. They know what California’s budget cuts mean to public safety and how it could affect their bottom line. And you can bet the farm, insurance companies probably know better than any other industry what things like climate change means for them. Combine budget cuts for public safety, in a high fire risk high and high fuel load area with more and more extreme weather patterns and your home owners premiums might be going the same way health care premiums are going. I’d hate to think what that can do to the local housing market on top of all the other factors already hammering it.

    Steve Willer
    Premier Mapping

    1. Yes, Steve, my insurance co.–for my car–is for low risk people only. When I tried to get them (AMEX) to add my house, they declined, first asking if there was any brush within 100 feet of the house; I answered honestly, saying “Of course there’s SOME brush.” Their rates are really low for cars, so I tried again a couple years later. That time I was asked if I had a wood stove. “No,” I told them, “But I have a pellet stove.” On that basis I was denied. I live right off 49, just south of the fire station where all the construction has been going on, so I feel fairly secure. Even so, I had installed a above ground swimming pool for extra water in case it might be needed. But I’ll happily pay the $50.00 that will be requested. Not too long ago, I had to dial 911, and it was the fire dept. that arrived first, by which time I’d collapsed and was patiently waiting for them on the floor. (g). Those guys were great and great service needs to be paid for. As an ex correctional educator from Santa Ana, working mostly with hard core gang kids, my natural inclinations are to pay up when asking a certain segment of the population to perform dangerous work that benefits the larger group.

      Or, perhaps, we could satisfy those that feel they must proclaim their favorite beverage and their special brand of patriotism on bumper stickers and revert to a fire fighting system akin to the type familiar to Philidelphians during Ben Franklin’s early years there: Subsription fire protection whereby property owners paid a fire fighting company, some with engines, to battle a blaze should one threaten or engulf your house. Subscribers would mark their structures in a way that the company would recognize the ones they were obligated to protect. They could be putting out the fire of a fine mansion, but if the fire spread next door, and the next door owners weren’t paid subscribers, their dream house would go up in smoke. (Culling my memory for that factoid, I believe it comes from H.W. Brands, The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, which I read several years ago.

      As I learned in High School, back in the sixties, “If ya wanna dance, ya gotta pay the fiddler.”


  8. Ed, AMEX denying you house insurance sounds just like what many health plans do with denying individuals coverage. And just like health plans dump people after they have an illness, I’d bet insurance companies will dump homeowners after even smaller fire events that might only burn a few houses.

    One of the big problems with living in an area that could get black listed from insurance companies are people won’t get loans to buy a house. What bank is going to want give a loan if the place can’t get insured? Or, if home owner policy costs rise higher and higher, what will that do to potential buyers and what they can afford? In Nevada County, we have lots of retirees that are home owners, I have to wonder what the housing market will be for many when they need to sell their homes and use the money to help pay for living in some kind of care facility. The elderly will end up in a lower quality care, probably paid for by tax payers in some way with some kind of program, or move in with their kids until their medical needs become to great.

    I think it would be short sighted if the people reject this tax measure to help the fire district. Its really sad that so many Americans have been hood winked into climate change denial because we really need to be going full steam into preparing for what is coming at us with global warming. The CO2 argument and trying to prevent GW has already left the train station. On the local level, the national level and global, its time to prepare for what is coming and what it means for a planet with 7 billion people and already over stretched natural resources and debt burdened fragile economies.

    1. Steve, I totally agree re. the Insurance companies. In 1970, I was present when my father and step mother bought mortage insurance for their new house. My father died within one year and the insurance co. refused to pay, saying he lied on the application. I don’t remember him saying anything untruthful, and although I didn’t really get along that well with him, he was known for his integrity. Died from cirrhosis; was a drinker, had been decorated five times for heroism in WWII fighting in Italy and most damaging of all was in advertising for CBS-TV in NYC durig the formative years of the tube. That meant automatic three martinini lunches. And when I returned home from Vietnam in 1969 after my tour with the Marines, I soon started to have health problems. I ignored them as best as I could until I had to see a doctor, hoping I could get some pain pills, but the doc put me in the hospital right then and there, on welfare. Long story short, after the V.A. told me I didn’t merit V.A. medical care–I had withdrawn from UCONN and enlisted so I could go to Nam–a doctor at the Greenwich, CT hospital called a doctor at the West Haven, CT VA hospital, and they arranged an end run around the VA red-tape and I was admitted. By then I was in serious to critical condition and was operated on a couple days later. Diagnosis: Hodgkins’s Disease IVB; Prognosis: “I’m sorry”. But after lots of chemo, radiation and surgery, I beat the odds and survived. But you can bet I was never able to get any kind of insurance after that and I was only 22 years old when admitted to the VA hospital. I’m 64 now, and have recently been diagnosed with my fourth cancer, a very rare form of leukemia. But now I have VA medical care for free–even though its not very convenient living in G.V., and when I retired as a Correctional and Alternative Educator in 2004 and moved up here, I did have group insurance and kept it, even though it is expensive.
      I had a nice bungalo a few blocks east of the ocean, in Oceanside, and sold it at the height of the boom, but of course, bought up here at the height, too. So, I figure, because I paid cash, I’ve lost close to a quarter mil on this property. Which means, I ain’t going nowhere.So, I’m one that you talk about; not very mobile, walk with a cane; sit in my recliner, reading histories and such and getting aggravated at all the sudden Constitutional experts from the Tea Party Hatriots.
      Until I found this forum, I dreamed about hitting a big lottery and starting a newspaper to counter all the right-wing nonsense I see in the paper we have. Plus, the people in the newsroom have no problem lying to callers. I called and asked “What happed to Gene Lyons column, did you guys drop him. I know he leans to the left.” “Oh, no,” I was told. “We make decisions based on how much room we have.” Yeah, right!! He hasn’t been in the Union for at least three months, while they’ve printed all kinds of brain numbing articles. Plus, Lyons disappeared right after that survey they included with the paper.
      When I moved up here, I didn’t realize how RED it was. I only knew a couple from back in N.Y. who have been in the area for years and thy’re about as progressive as one can be.

    1. Doug, send me an email at and we can see if there is something we can work out.
      What an individual property shows for fire threat is only part of the question, you sound like you’ve done what you should for fire safety on your property, which is great. Those datasets from CALFIRE won’t show that you’ve cleared brush around the structures on your property.

      1. I curious to see how I and my neighbors are listed, so that if the isurance company does do something, I can get right on it, legally. Also, I may be able to get some of those around me to be more aware and taken better care of theirs.

      2. Is there any data supporting whether insurance companies are actually raising rates for fire coverage here in Nevada County? A neighbor has asked me if it’s really true that rates will go up or policies canceled.

  9. Last year my home owner’s policy increased by about 20%. ( The bill comes in June). I called and asked the reason for such a large increase and was told–remembering as best as I can–that it was due to the fire threat and that several insurance carriers had already stopped providing coverage in this area (if not in all of CA, I don’t recall). So, take this anecdotal evidence for what it’s worth, but I won’t be surprised, come June, with another 20% increase. And putting in an above ground pool for an extra supply of water in case of a fire has no effect on my insurance rates.

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