An effort to provide additional funding for fire protection services in Tuolumne County was rejected by voters in an all-mail special election on Tuesday, according to preliminary results released shortly after the deadline to cast ballots at 8 p.m.
Measure V needed approval from more than two-thirds of eligible voters who cast a ballot in order to pass, but the result turned out to be the opposite with more than 67% saying "no" to the proposed parcel tax. The preliminary vote totals were 3,948 in favor and 8,279 opposed.
A supermajority was required because it’s considered a “special tax,” meaning it can only legally be spent on the stated purpose as opposed to other county projects or services.
The measure would have imposed an additional annual tax of $150 per improved parcel, such as a business or home, and $75 per unimproved parcel, such as a vacant lot, in the areas covered by the participating fire agencies and districts.
A financial analysis conducted by county Auditor-Controller Debi Bautista estimated the tax would have generated close to $4.2 million in the first year and more than $4.5 million annually within five years. Each of the involved fire agencies and districts would receive a portion equal to the amount collected from property owners within their jurisdictions.
Only voters who reside within the area covered by each of the agencies and districts that are part of the Tuolumne County Fire Authority were able to vote in the election. There were 33,898 registered voters eligible to cast ballots, of which the turnout on Tuesday represented 36%.
Agencies and districts that are part of the 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.
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.
Voter turnout for the special election was among the lowest that Bautista, who also serves as county clerk and registrar of voters, said she could recall in her 25 years of overseeing elections in the county.
Ballots received in the mail by the county Elections Office up until 5 p.m. Friday will still be counted as long as they are postmarked on or before Tuesday, though it’s not expected there will be enough to change the result. Bautista said they didn’t receive any in the mail on Tuesday and were only aware of six that were in transit.
See Thursday’s Union Democrat for reactions to the result from county officials and what it could mean for the future of local fire services.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 768-5175.