SECOND UPDATE: Humboldt County’s final unofficial election night report shows support for the passage of Measure O, the countywide half-cent general sales tax, climbing to 71.94 percent of the vote with 87 of 144 precincts reporting.
PREVIOUS UPDATE: Humboldt County’s third unofficial election night report shows support for the passage of Measure O, the countywide half-cent general sales tax, growing to 71.16 percent of the vote with 66 of 144 precincts reporting.
PREVIOUS REPORT: Humboldt County voters appeared on track to approve the passage of Measure O tonight. The county’s second election night report, with 25 of 144 precincts reporting, showed the half-cent general sales tax garnering the support of 69.98 percent of voters.
The measure’s previous incarnation — Measure Z, passed by voters in 2014 — had a 2020 sunset provision. Measure O has none; both were promoted to county voters as critical to funding public safety. Measure Z brings in about $12 million annually, revenue allocated by the Board of Supervisors to law enforcement, the Humboldt County District Attorney, local fire departments and a dozen other public safety functions.
County officials including Sheriff William Honsal, District Attorney Maggie Fleming and members of the Board of Supervisors have thrown their support behind Measure O, claiming it is key to public safety.
One key area where Measure Z revenue has had a major impact is on local fire departments, particularly the three dozen or so volunteer departments that provide fire service for rural areas.
“For the rural fire service, it’s been huge,” said Fortuna Fire Chief Lon Winburn. “We had departments out there before Measure Z that had outdated equipment, apparatus and no turnouts (protective clothing) and we’re still working on getting many departments the buildings they need to store the apparatus and equipment.”
In 2018, the Humboldt County Fire Chief’s Association was allocated just over $1.2 million to purchase equipment and upgrade apparatus, money that will also be used to build new fire stations. Since 2015, the association has received more than $5 million and that revenue is important in more than one way, as Winburn explains.
“One of our challenges is getting people lined up and ready to volunteer then getting them trained and retained,” he said. “The new equipment we have started to see, the new gear means more people get interested and now you see membership growing.”
Winburn pointed out that the equipment firefighters use wears out, turnouts are only good for 10 years and equipment such as a breathing apparatus have a shelf life as well. Having the resources to replace the older equipment means local departments can maintain staffing because they have the needed equipment.
Measure Z tax revenue has been used to hire more than a dozen new patrol deputies, allowed the DA to hire three attorneys along with other staff and meant better ambulance and medical response services in areas like Willow Creek and Orick.
Winburn said he had his reservations about both Measure Z and Measure O, specifically a lack of sunset date for Measure O, but the benefits are far greater than the negatives.
“As far as a sunset date goes, my initial reaction was it’s not the best option but when you start talking about jobs, public safety and medical and law enforcement coverage in rural areas, the good far outweighs the bad,” he said. “If you lose the funding, you lose those jobs and they have to let people go and then you’re right back where you started.”
Honsal was an avid supporter of Measure O and his office has been the primary beneficiary. He maintains it’s key to providing the best law enforcement service to the county.
“This continuance of the half-cent sales tax will continue the sheriff’s office’s effort to be proactive with crime enforcement here in the county. The sheriff’s office and other public safety agencies have gained a lot of ground when it comes to the uphill fight with crime,” Honsal wrote in a recent email. “At this point, it would be devastating to lose this funding source and go back to becoming a reactive department. Measure Z allowed us to increase public safety in this community, helping solve more community crime-related problems. We need the public’s help. Out of every $1,000 spent, $5 continues to fund public safety. It is a small price to pay for something that makes a huge impact to our county.”