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Opponents of Measure B fire back with petition

Supporters say tax was fully vetted
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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The debate between some Newcastle residents over a recently passed initiative to provide additional funding for the fire protection district rages on. Measure B, an annual $146.46 parcel tax, which has incremental increases based on the square footage of a property owner?s structures, was passed in March by over 68 percent of voters. Measure B will fund a new fire station, a raise for firefighters and provide them with health benefits. Currently, firefighters sleep in a travel trailer and keep equipment in the station that has been condemned. Signatures being gathered for new vote Shortly after it was passed, a group of residents organized in opposition to the measure in its current form and say they have collected signatures of over 400 Newcastle residents who are also concerned. They are hoping a more moderate version of Measure B will make it on the ballot in November. In order to accomplish that, they need to turn in a minimum of 288 valid signatures to the Placer County Office of Elections by early July, according to Ryan Ronco, Placer County assistant clerk-recorder. Members of the group say they want to see a modest, but adequate, fire station built, but want to end the full tax after three years and reduce it to $30 per parcel after that. Another portion of Measure B as it currently stands states that the Newcastle Fire Protection District can vote to raise the tax annually based upon changes in the San Francisco Bay API or 3 percent, or whichever is less. The group said they would propose removing this provision altogether because they are concerned on the impact to residents many years from now. Supporters of Measure B say reducing the tax will have drastic consequences, including a shortfall of funds for an adequate new station and the inability to pay firefighters currently making $8.50 an hour a competitive wage. They said the fee amounts were carefully vetted for over two years and added that an overwhelming majority of voters approved the tax. Dave Ward, 64, of Newcastle, said he supports the fire department, but doesn?t want to see his children stuck with unmanageable taxes in the future. ?I think we have about 400 signatures now, so we have way more than we need to put it on the ballot,? Ward said. ?It?s a win-win for both sides. They want to see a new fire station built, but they don?t want their children to end up with a tax they can?t afford. Don?t tax us out of existence.? Ward said he believes a metal garage with simple living quarters could meet state standards. Objectives won?t be met without Measure B, Leydon says Michael Leydon, who was volunteer campaign manager for Measure B and part of the group that researched and designed the measure, said those opposed to the fees have based their conclusions off of inaccurate facts. ?The folks collecting signatures have their facts wrong and consequently they have their conclusions wrong,? Leydon said. As is stands now, Measure B will raise $299,000 annually. Forty percent has been dedicated to paying debts on the new fire station, 40 percent for raises and benefits and 20 percent for operating costs. He said the full value of the tax is necessary to keep the fire protection district stable into the future. In a comparison of local districts, he said Newcastle was the only one that didn?t provide firefighters any medical benefits and paid the lowest in wages. The preferred benefits plan was projected to cost $19,200 for six to eight firefighters. The raise increase would likely be to $12 an hour for firefighters, $15 an hour for fire captains and $18 an hour for the battalion chief. With all things factored in, Leydon said the committee estimated it would cost $165,000 a year to make the changes, which will still have to be trimmed to $119,600 under Measure B. Leydon said because of this a lesser medical plan will likely have to be chosen as it is. ?It?s important to look not just at one component, but the whole component,? Leydon said. ?Newcastle lags far behind all the other districts in every regard. Penryn was close in wage and even Penryn offers a medical benefit.? He said this results in the district training young firefighters who gain more experience and then move on, which also drives up costs. Ward contends that the $65,820 raised through the $30 a year proposed fee would be enough to provide benefits and wage increases. The fire board has looked at ideas for a station in the past, but has never decided on a specific one. Leydon said the board will move forward with conducting a feasibility study on the current site on Indian Hill Road adjacent to the California Highway Patrol Office. On Thursday, the board signed a letter of intent to negotiate a ground lease on the undeveloped property, according to Joe Irvin, Newcastle Fire Protection District project liaison. About 30,000 square feet, owned by R&S Properties, has been offered to the District at $100 a month over 40 years, with a 10-year extension, he added. ?We are pleased to take this important step toward fulfilling the will of the voters and building a new station," said Yvonne Lewis, chair of the board. "This is a very generous offer of commercial property, centrally located in our service area. We've considered many potential sites that have come to our attention, and this is the only viable choice - and it's a good one, allowing us to pursue an affordable and functional station." Chief building official weighs in Tim Wegner, chief building official for Placer County, said fire stations do have to meet all of the requirements for the state?s most strict building requirements, but a metal garage with a modular could potentially meet the standards. ?There are increases in structural strengths, partially with its ability to withstand those conditions (wind, flood, ect.),? Wegner said. ?In a sense there is a higher standard in the structural area.? Wegner said for any plan that is submitted to be approved engineers have to be able to demonstrate the fire station?s structural integrity when a variety of the most difficult conditions and stressors are placed upon it because firemen have to be able to respond to residents? needs at all times. ?We have been in contact with the Newcastle Fire Board and we are encouraging them to seek professional design help in making those determinations,? Wegner said. The group opposed to Measure B in its current form meets at 6 p.m. on Monday nights at the Grange Hall in Newcastle. The Newcastle Fire Protection Board meets at 6 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at Newcastle Elementary School. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News. ______________________________________________________ What will it take to get a new initiative on the ballot? ? 288 valid signatures on a petition from voters in the Newcastle Fire Protection District. This number calculated based on 10 percent of the district?s registered voters. ? Published intent to circulate the petition in a local publication ? Turn petitions in by early July to qualify for placement of initiative on November ballot Source: Ryan Ronco, Placer County assistant county clerk-recorder ______________________________________________________ Results of Measure B- Special Election for the Newcastle Fire Protection Board held on March 6, 2012 Total votes: 1,778 Yes: 1,223 No: 555 Source: Placer County Office of Elections