Thursday Feb 09 2012
Another View: Measure B offers a blank check for Newcastle Fire Dept.
By: John Brassfield, Guest Columnist
Editor’s note: John Brassfield is a Newcastle resident. He was a Newcastle Fire District Board member between 2005 and 2007. He was asked to resign from the board. His column is featured to balance the Measure B debate. For the other side on Measure B, visit auburnjournal.com. We all agree that Newcastle Fire Department needs a new firehouse. Unfortunately they didn’t ask for that in Measure B. They asked for a blank check in the form of a progressive and incremental tax. They say the allocation of the additional revenue will be 40 percent for the new fire station, 40 percent for wages and benefits, and 20 percent for incidentals. I believe these are misplaced priorities. The funds for fire station should be 100 percent of the revenue, which should be a tax with a two- to three-year term, not forever. The guest columnist in the Journal Feb. 7 showed the lack of knowledge about how the fire department operates. Their revenue comes from a variety of sources. Every new permit to build in Newcastle requires a significant amount for fire protection and other services. Presently the fire tax in the Newcastle area is about $75. This tax increases each year based on a cost of living formula. It also is an incremental tax, slowly creeping higher and higher. The Feb. 7 column also contained a few “scare tactics” to ensure a “yes” vote. The comment regarding the new cost of fire insurance if there is no Newcastle Fire Department is ridiculous. Our fire insurance is likely not to change at all. This was a fourth party statement with little credibility. One of the most important statements in the measure is regarding the square footage on your parcel. This new tax is not on your parcel or your residence; it is on the total square footage of structures contained on the parcel. If you have a barn or other out-buildings, they too are contained in the count. You could easily have over 3,000 square feet. Each 1,000 foot over the 3,000 feet will cost you $50 annually. This “vote by mail” procedure being used for this Measure B, with the cooperation of the County Elections Office, seems like it should be illegal. The County Counsel overlooked that the counting and determination of passage will be determined based on only those who voted, not all the voters in the region. So, if you do not vote “no,” or do not vote, you have essentially cast a “yes” vote. Why didn’t the Newcastle Fire Board place this Measure B on the ballot at the primary election? That would have offered voters an opportunity for a straight up “yes” or “no” vote. Also, be assured, the 3 percent increase will be added every year. Of course everyone would like better wages and a good health program. Both are very expensive and have little or nothing to do with any existing conditions regarding fire protection or medical response. Now is a poor time to ask for those items. In summary, this Measure B is poorly drafted with the wrong priorities. It is incremental and will increase each year. Those with parcels under 3,000 square feet with no out-buildings know that they will pay the approximate $150 the first year, which will be over $200 in 10 years. Those who exceed the 3,000 feet need to take inventory to determine their total fire tax bill. It could well be several hundred. There is no plan in place for building a new fire station, or it has not been made public. The proponents of this measure are using the motto: Save The Newcastle Fire Department. This should be Let’s Build a New Fire Station. If this Measure were written properly before asking for residents to vote “yes,” it would be certain to pass. The way it is offered to the voters is deceitful and it deserves to fail. The many residents on fixed incomes will suffer if another $150 (and up) appears on their tax bill. The Newcastle Fire Department will not go away if Measure B does not pass. Let’s wait for a Measure to build a new fire station only, with a tax that will go away after two to three years. Vote “no” on Measure B. Remember, not voting is the same as a yes vote.