Measure V’s fate was sealed Tuesday night the moment that the initial batch of results was released, with more than two-thirds of Tuolumne County voters who cast a ballot saying “no” to the proposed parcel tax for funding fire services.
The defeat was further solidified on Wednesday after more ballots were processed and the gap widened to 9,223 votes against the tax, about 68%, and 4,315 in favor, about 32%. As a special tax earmarked for a specific use, the measure would have needed more than two-thirds voting “yes” in order to pass.
Ballots received in the mail by the Elections Office through 5 p.m. Friday will still be counted, but the lead was virtually insurmountable for the measure to overcome given the low turnout for the all-mail special election. Just under 40% of the 33,898 registered voters eligible to cast a ballot had done so as of the latest count Wednesday afternoon.
County officials and fire chiefs who supported the measure said they were disappointed by the result and will continue to work on a solution to the funding situation for fire services, which a 2019 study described as dire.
“The problem we were trying to address isn’t going away because Measure V failed,” said County Supervisor Ryan Campbell, who serves as board chairman. “It’s something that our community will need to find an answer to, one way or another.”
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 that are part of the newly formed Tuolumne County Fire Authority.
An analysis by the county 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, with each of the authority’s members receiving a portion equal to the amount collected from property owners within their jurisdictions.
Pete Kampa, general manager of the Groveland Community Services District, said he was disappointed and understanding of the voters’ rejection of the measure and plans to discuss GCSD’s next steps with its board at a public meeting next month.
Kampa said the district is currently in the first year of a three-year contract for Cal Fire to provide two full-time firefighters at GCSD’s fire station, but he doesn’t believe they will have enough funding to commit to another three years.
The area that GCSD covers was the only one that cracked more than 50% of voters in support of the measure (see chart for a full breakdown of votes by district).
Kampa said he was planning to recommend trying a local ballot measure specifically for GCSD, but noted that putting such measures before voters is both costly and time consuming. The estimated cost for the Measure V election is about $90,000, which will be split between districts based on the amount of voters in each.
Campaign finance disclosures at the county Elections Office filed on April 30, about a week before ballots were mailed out, showed that the Cal Fire Local 2881 firefighters union pledged to spend up to nearly $22,800 to promote support for the measure.
The Tuolumne County Farm Bureau was the most visible opposition group and sent out mailers urging voters to defeat it, but no financial disclosure forms were available from the Elections Office.
Nathan Rosasco, the bureau’s president, said he didn’t know on Wednesday exactly how much was spent on the campaign to defeat the measure and that they were working on a final tally.
Rosasco said their goal was to defeat the measure because they thought it was unfair, particularly how it was structured for unimproved parcels, but they don’t deny the funding issues faced by county fire agencies and would be willing to work with county officials on an alternate solution.
“One of the ways that this was unfair is by saying $75 per undeveloped parcel, you’re paying that whether it’s two acres or 250 acres,” he said. “The other part that was very unfair was you could have a developed parcel with just a trailer or an apartment complex. I think they just needed to think about a more fair and equitable way of doing this.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 768-5175.