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Measure B could be revisited on November ballot

Group says they?re seeking signatures to amend ?runaway tax?
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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A group of Newcastle voters is charging full speed ahead with plans to circulate a petition to see Measure B modified. The $146.46 parcel tax has incremental increases based on the square footage of a property owner?s structures. It passed last month with more than 68 percent of voters, with 1,223 people voting ?yes? and 555 voting ?no?, according to the Placer County Office of Elections. Measure B will fund a new fire station, a raise for firefighters making minimum wage and operating costs. Those who want to see the tax modified say they also want a new fire station built and wage and benefit increases for firefighters, but think the funding created by the measure as it is written now is outrageous. Supporters of Measure B say full funding is needed to build a fire station that is up to code, give decent benefits and wages to firefighters and keep the fire protection district viable for future generations. Susie Brown, who is part of the effort to see the measure changed, said she believes the fire station could be more modest than the current plans indicate. Brown said she would like to see a tin building to house fire trucks and a modular home for firefighters to live in. She is also concerned about an annual cost of living increase of no more than 3 percent that is built into the initiative. ?They raised our taxes almost 300 percent and never in the history of our county have taxes been raised by that amount,? Brown said. ?We don?t have any animosity, but we have to stop this runaway train.? The group working to modify Measure B took the first legal step by announcing a notice of intention to circulate initiative petition in Thursday?s issue of the Journal. In it they outlined two major changes. First they said they would like to see Measure B modified to exist as it was originally voted upon for a period of three years to raise funds for the new station. After that, the group said they are hoping to replace the $146.46 parcel tax with one of $30 with no annual increases. David Ward, 64, lives in Auburn and is also part of the Newcastle Fire Protection District. He said he is concerned that by the time he leaves his land to his son, he won?t be able afford to pay fire taxes. He said he believes the $30 a year tax combined with the $74 parcel tax residents are already paying would be adequate. ?We are hoping to protect our ground for our children and grandchildren, so they are not forced to sell out when they get to my age,? Ward said. Ward said he believes all of the things Measure B set out to accomplish could be achieved with the changes the group is proposing. He said the group needs to gather about 250 to 300 signatures by the end of June to have the modified measure placed on the November ballot. Yvonne Lewis, chairman of the board for the Newcastle Fire Protection District said the people supporting the changes to Measure B have based their information on inaccurate figures. She said three years of taxes generated by Measure B is not enough to fund the new station and $30 annually will not be enough money to give firefighters a decent wage and benefits. Lewis said the group also hasn?t taken into account other operating expenses, including state-mandated audits and worker?s compensation costs. She said the state and the county won?t approve the type of fire station Brown and some others want because it won?t withstand extreme emergencies and natural disasters. ?Your requirements are different than what they were 20 years ago,? Lewis said. ?We are looking for a track home-type station, not the Taj Mahal.? Michael Leydon, who served as the volunteer campaign manager for Measure B, said the fact is nearly 69 percent of voters in the district supported the measure and he hopes this doesn?t delay the construction of the badly needed new fire station. Currently, firefighters are sleeping in a recreational vehicle and equipment is housed in a fire station that has been condemned. Rui Cunha, Placer County assistant emergency services director said in an interview earlier this year that without a plan for a new station, the county will eventually have to mandate the equipment be removed from the building, which would effectively shut the fire protection district down. ?It?s very troubling if any petition effort becomes a barrier to implementing the will of two-thirds of our voters who want to build a fire station and who want to be certain that we continue to receive high quality medical and fire protection services,? Leydon said. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.