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O’side leaders question plan for fire tax

Wildfires know no boundaries. The 2007 Witch Creek Fire and 2003 Cedar Fire had countywide impacts. But discussion of a Nov. 4 ballot measure calling for a countywide $52 parcel tax for regional fire protection brought up the question of local responsibility at the Sept. 3 City Council meeting.
James Duffy, chief of staff for Fourth District Supervisor Ron Roberts, presented information on the measure. The major benefit of the tax is that technology and resources can be pooled and managed on a countywide level. During the Witch Creek Fire, 200 firefighters were ready and able to work, but did not have the necessary apparatus and equipment.
“That’s 10 strike teams,” Duffy said. “What we need to do as a region is address fires countywide.”
The proposed fire protection tax will bring in $2.9 million in gross revenue to Oceanside, with 50 percent of the tax going toward regional firefighting efforts, and the other 50 percent to local firefighting.
How the 50 percent will be spent on regional efforts was questioned at the meeting. For some, there simply was not enough information on the proposed region plan that was initiated in January.
“I consider myself reasonably well-informed, but there’s a lot more information needed,” Oceanside resident Kay Parker said. “I have many questions, especially on a new tax. I don’t believe the public is properly informed to go ahead with an election.”
There was also the question of where the responsibility to fight fires lies. Of the $49.3 million the proposed fire safety tax will bring in countywide, San Diego will be taxed $20.4 million, unincorporated areas will collectively be taxed $9.2 million, Chula Vista $3.3 million, and Oceanside will follow as the fourth-highest taxed city.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez questioned the equity of regional efforts that may have greater benefits for the underprepared rural areas, and acknowledged Oceanside as already playing a significant role in providing mutual aid in recent regional firefighting efforts.
Councilman Jack Feller said he did not support the measure. “I’m not interested in it unless someone would have a gangbuster reason why we’re better protected,” Feller said.
“There is always benefit to having a regional response,” Terry Garrison, Oceanside fire chief, said. Garrison added that currently the entire city fire budget goes into fire protection. To many, that sounded better than a tax increase that would provide 50 percent for local firefighting efforts.