Measure V ballot

A Tuolumne County elections worker separates cast ballots from signed envelopes without viewing signatures on the envelopes, in Tuesday's special local Measure V election at 2 S. Green St. in Sonora.

The all-mail Measure V special election that ends at 8 p.m. tonight is turning out to be one of the lowest turnout affairs that Debi Bautista, Tuolumne County’s registrar of voters, has seen in at least 25 years.

Bautista said the Elections Office at 2 S. Green St. in downtown Sonora had received 12,190 returned ballots as of Monday, which represents about 38% of the roughly 32,000 that were mailed out to residents who were registered and eligible to vote in the election.

“I don’t remember having any election under 50%,” she said.

The election will determine whether property owners within the jurisdiction of fire agencies that are part of the newly formed Tuolumne County Fire Authority will have to pay an additional tax of $150 per improved parcel and $75 per unimproved parcel each year.

Unless repealed by voters in a future election, the amount of the tax would increase by up to 2% per year. 

A financial analysis conducted by Bautista estimated the tax would generate close to $4.2 million in the first year and more than $4.5 million annually within five years. Each of the involved agencies would receive a portion equal to the amount they collect.

At least two-thirds of the returned ballots must be marked “yes” in order for the measure to pass because it is a special tax that can only be used for funding fire services among the involved agencies.

Agencies that are part of the joint powers authority include the Tuolumne County Fire Department, Groveland Community Services District, Sonora Fire Department, Jamestown Fire Protection District, Tuolumne Fire District and Columbia Fire Protection District.

Only voters who reside within the area covered by each of the agencies can vote in the election, and only property owners within them would have to pay the tax if the measure passes.

The Twain Harte Community Services District, Mi-Wuk Sugar Pine Fire Protection District, and Strawberry Fire Protection opted out of participating because property owners in those areas already pay an additional local tax for funding their services.

Opposition to the measure has been led by the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau, which sent mailers about the same time that ballots went out early last month saying that the tax is structured unfairly and urging people to vote it down.

There was an initial influx of ballots returned to the Elections Office that has since tapered off, suggesting that many of those who cast them had already taken a strong position one way or the other, though Bautista said it’s currently impossible to tell which direction it was leaning.

Bautista expects to be able to have enough ballots processed and counted shortly after 8 p.m. to tell whether the measure will pass or fail, though additional ballots received in the mail through Friday will still be counted as long as they are postmarked on or before today.

“We could be surprised,” she said of how many might arrive in the mail after today.

The election cost about $100,000 divided between the involved agencies, with the county covering the vast majority due to having the most number of voters.

Bautista said it will be interesting to see the final turnout and how it compares to a looming recall election for Gov. Gavin Newsom that’s expected sometime before the end of the year, but a date still has yet to be determined.

Unlike the Measure V all-mail election, the county will be required to have vote centers open for at least 11 days before the election at an additional cost, which Bautista estimated could be close to $200,000 and would be reimbursed by the state.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 768-5175.