Residents in at least two, out of four, unincorporated Southern Humboldt communities voted to form fire protection districts and approve a special tax to support the delivery of services, preliminary election results showed last Tuesday night.
It appears that only Briceland, with 85.25 percent approval, and Bridgeville, with 78.95 percent approval, met the required two-thirds voter approval to become fire protection districts. The community of Palo Verde appears to have rejected the measure, with 85.71 percent voting against the formation of a fire protection district. The Fruitland Ridge results were not as clear-cut, with 64.84 percent of voters approving the formation of a fire district. The measure needed to be approved by 66.66 percent of voters to pass.
”Right now the results are very close in the case of Fruitland Ridge,” Humboldt County registrar of voters Carolyn Crnich said. “There are three ballots that are still outstanding and we are required by state law to do a 100 percent recount of all the ballots cast. I am not sure if these results will change, but they may.”
Crnich said the official results of the election should appear soon.
The initial ballot results hit Fruitland Ridge Volunteer Fire chief Mike Lake hard. He said that if the measure does not end up passing it is likely that the department, with which he has served for the past 15 years, will have to close its doors.
”If this community loses its fire company, they will be losing a lot more than they think,” he said. “Just to be that close, with just a couple of votes, it would be pretty sad. We have been working on this for over a year and we were pretty positive going into it. I thought we had something, but I guess not.” Lake, who also serves as president of the Southern Humboldt Fire Chief’s Association, said while the Fruitland Ridge and Palo Verde results disappointed him, he was glad for the Briceland and Bridgeville volunteer departments. “At least they made it - that is good,” he said.
Garnering the two-thirds approval from registered voters marked the final step for the two departments in a process the four volunteer fire departments and the Humboldt County Local Agency Formation Commission began over a year ago.
Although the amounts vary, property owners in the two newly formed fire protection districts will now be assessed a special tax to support the delivery of fire protection services, guaranteeing a secure source of funding for the departments.
Unless the initial results change, Palo Verde and Fruitland Ridge will have to continue to rely on funding from community donations. According to Arcata Fire Protection District chief John McFarland, the special tax will bring the Bridgeville and Briceland departments up to speed with the rest of the county’s 43 fire service organizations.
”All the rest of us - Arcata, Blue Lake, Fortuna, everyone - are already special districts and so we have access to some tax money.
But these four little guys are left out,” he said. “We lovingly call them the ‘bake sale departments’ because that’s what they have to rely on for their funding.”
Humboldt County is unique, McFarland said, in that volunteer agencies like Briceland, Bridgeville, Fruitland Ridge and Palo Verde have sprung up in rural state responsibility areas over the years to supplement services provided by Cal Fire, which is fully staffed only during fire season - a flexible time period that lasts for about half of the year.
These departments have become integral to maintaining the current standard of fire protection in Humboldt County. In many cases, volunteers with a local fire department are able to arrive on scene before an ambulance. But operating a volunteer department requires a lot of money and time.
Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department assistant chief Tim Smith said becoming a fire service protection district and securing funds is critical.
”This is huge for us,” Smith said.
Smith said his department, which is staffed entirely by volunteers, has been scraping by since it formed five and a half years ago. This year has been especially hard on the Bridgeville Fire Department, which failed to raise enough at its annual Bridgefest Fundraiser to cover even the basic cost of insurance. Both of the department’s fire engines - purchased in 1972 and 1961 - are in desperate need of repairs, he said. Inadequate funding is a problem all four departments face, not just Bridgeville, Smith said.
”That’s why this tax is so important,” he said. “We are all struggling here. We are volunteers and a lot of us have full-time jobs on top of that. It is not like we are trying to implement these taxes to go out and buy all new stuff. We are really just trying to find a way to cover our basic costs of operation.”
Executive officer George Williamson said the process for the departments to form into fire protection districts began in July 2011, when LAFCO received the volunteer fire departments’ applications.
Over the next year the volunteer fire departments worked closely with Humboldt County Planning Division’s Cybelle Immitt and John Miller. Once the applications were filed, public hearings and protest hearings were held and an impartial analysis was conducted. On July 30, ballots were sent out to the 1,157 registered voters in the four proposed districts.
”We have to remain impartial, but we can acknowledge that the departments put a lot of effort in,” Williamson said. “Everything is volunteer on their part and yet they donated hours and hours to secure this source of funding. It is pretty impressive stuff.”
Voters were also asked to select five board of director members to oversee the districts, if approved. Tuesday’s results show Ben Fleek, David Vegliano, Joyce Church, Kathleen Saler and Brian Phillips as the frontrunners for the five Bridgeville board of director seats. In Briceland, Peter Ryce, Gerald Myers, Leib Ostrow, Jerry Sevier and Jim Courtois - the only candidates on the ballot - appeared to have secured the five seats.
Under state law, the ballots will have to be 100 percent recounted and the few ballots that were dropped off last minute at the post office will be added in.
But Humboldt County registrar of voters Carolyn Crnich said she expects only minor amendments to the results to appear in the next few days.
In the case of Fruitland Ridge, however, Crnich said the community will just have to wait and see. “The official results will appear in the next few days,” she said. “We will know then.”
Kaci Poor can be reached at 441-0504 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AT A GLANCE:
Fire Protection District results:
Registered voters: 430
Percent who voted: 50.47%
Yes vote: 85.25%
No vote: 14.75%
The proposed district will encompass 28,172 acres and serve an estimated 603 residents and 373 housing units. The proposed special tax will be assessed annually on all property owners at $85 per parcel of land.
Registered voters: 351
Percent who voted: 33.33%
Yes vote: 78.95%
No vote: 21.05%
The district will encompass 125,653 acres and serve an estimated 601 residents and 360 housing units. The special tax will be assessed annually on all property owners at $10 for undeveloped parcels of land, $75 for single-family developed parcels of land and $100 for developed parcels of land containing commercial structures and manufactured home parks.
_ Fruitland Ridge
Registered voters: 193
Percent who voted: 48.70%
Yes vote: 64.84%
No vote: 35.16%
The district would have encompassed 12,671 acres and serve an estimated 338 residents and 199 housing units. The special tax would have been assessed annually on all property owners at $60 per parcel of land.
_ Palo Verde
Registered voters: 183
Percent who voted: 26.78%
Yes vote: 14.29%
No vote: 85.71%
The district would have encompassed 28,134 acres and serve an estimated 233 residents and 161 housing units. The special tax would have been assessed annually on all property owners at $150 for developed parcels of land and $75 for undeveloped parcels of land.
Sources: The Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission and the Humboldt County Elections and Voter Registration Office.