Measure V: Mi-Wuk-

Sugar Pine Fire parcel tax

"For positive outcomes, involve the voters."

That was the title of a Union Democrat editorial that ran after the 2007 defeat of a parcel tax proposed by the Mi-Wuk-Sugar Pine Fire Protection District. Nearly 60 percent of voters opposed Measure R, which would have raised the fire tax on every lot in the district to $300.

Critics said they were blindsided by the proposal, which was widely viewed as too extravagant. What's more, they said the district did not involve its constituents in talks that led to drafting of the ill-fated measure.

District directors listened: "The community told us we were reaching too far," said Kirk Wallace, a board member who headed the R campaign. "We got the message."

Gearing up for 2008, directors formed a citizens committee to formulate a realistic, affordable measure to put before voters. The panel sent questionnaires to all of the district's 1,428 property owners. About 10 percent were returned.

Most voters wanted to maintain the current service level for fire and medical calls: one paid firefighter on duty 24-7 and a chief at the station Monday through Friday. Eliminated was a Measure R proposal to hike the chief's pay to $60,000.

The requested levies are also lower: R set the fire tax on every parcel in the district, including vacant lots, at $300 annually for 15 years. V, good for 10 years, would base parcel taxes on use: Vacant lots would be billed $80, lots with homes would be assessed $170 and, at the top of the list, developed commercial-industrial lots would be assessed for $290.

The new parcel tax would go into effect next year and replace two tax measures adopted in the 1990s. V would raise the district's yearly parcel-tax income from the current $115,480 to $223,890. On contrast, Measure R would have generated about $428,000 a year.

This year's proposal includes enough cash to complete ongoing fire station improvements and to replace aging equipment.

Measure V was the subject of several community and board meetings, including two town hall sessions last month.

If the plan which requires two-thirds' approval is defeated, the two 1990s lot taxes would expire in 2010. This, said Wallace, would force the district to let its paid employees go and rely on volunteers, who are becoming almost impossible to recruit.

In this economic climate, passing any tax measure would be a tall order and Measure V still has its opponents. But the Mi-Wuk-Sugar Pine District has listened to its constituents in coming up with a fair and reasonable plan to maintain service. Measure V deserves a yes vote on Nov. 4.

Measure K: Bret

Harte school bond

Also deserving voter support is Measure K, an $18 million bond issue before Bret Harte Union High School District voters. The bonds, which require 55 percent support to pass, would be repaid over 25 years and, according to the district, would annually cost homeowners $12 per $100,000 of assessed valuation a year.

Bond projects include:

? A new two-story classroom building on Bret Harte High School's Angels Camp campus. Included would be two science labs, four all-purpose classrooms and two special ed classrooms. Eight aging portables would be removed.

? A community swimming pool, part of the Bret Harte-Angels Sports Complex next to campus, and upgraded athletic fields.

? New, energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems throughout the district.

? Future classrooms and possible community projects on the district's Copperopolis school site.

Measure K would fund Bret Harte's first major bond construction in more than 30 years. Polls conducted in May showed Bret Harte voters were amenable to the proposal and no ballot argument was filed against it.

Michael Chimente, Bret Harte district superintendent, said K would, in the short term, bring construction cash into the local economy and, looking years ahead, would be an investment in education that outlasts today's market perils.