Editorial: Fire-tax proposal a strong step in right direction

19 August 2019

Published by https://www.marinij.com

USA- It would be foolhardy for Marin not to come up with a single, coordinated plan to help protect the county’s homes and businesses from a wildfire, the likes of which we have seen leave wakes of death and destruction in other Northern California counties.

The lesson is clear.

Local fire professionals have returned from fighting those fires with a clear warning: It could happen here.

It has before. The threat is real.

And one of the most important lessons is that a raging wildland fire doesn’t care about jurisdictions and their rules.

But a coordinated large-scale effort to improve fire prevention and safety can make a difference that can save lives and property.

Officials say an effective countywide plan is going to take additional revenue. They are proposing a parcel tax — 11 cents per square foot — to raise an estimated $20 million that would help pay for fire crews needed to trim or remove trees and brush across Marin’s parks and open spaces. Funding would also help maintain firebreaks, improve wildland-fire detection, bolster public evacuation planning and enforce new laws aimed at creating “defensible space” around homes and businesses.

Its oversight would be the establishment of a new countywide agency and board.

Taxpayers across Marin are already paying special taxes to improve local fire protection. This tax should be aimed at bolstering protection and preparedness and not be a way to shift existing local expenses onto a countywide program.

The new board needs to be publicly committed to not becoming another below-the-public-radar taxing agency. Its business has to be focused on saving lives and property. Its business needs to be part of the public awareness, not lost in costly, but invisible bureaucracy.

Marin’s track record with such agencies, in some cases, shows greater effectiveness in collecting tax dollars than in generating public knowledge and involvement.

The tax measure now goes to other Marin jurisdictions for their approval before it goes to the voters. The target is March’s ballot.

A strong argument can be made that the county should already have such a measure in place and underway, especially after the sober warning of the North Bay fires were already more than a year ago.

But as the proposed measure makes its stops among town and city councils — as well as local fire district boards — proponents need to make absolutely clear exactly how the tax dollars would be used and how much each property owner would be taxed.

It needs to make clear that there will be money that can assist local seniors — those who may fit the description of being property rich, but cash poor — in making their homes more fire safe by defraying the upfront cost of clearing flammable landscaping away from structures in order to give firefighters improved chances of saving their homes.

It is going to take greater public awareness, assistance and enforcement to make these measures a reality.

And it has to be a countywide approach. Jurisdictions, including state and federal parks, need to be able to rely on one another in sharing a common and effective strategy.

All one needs to do is look around Marin and visit Northern California areas that have already been victims of out-of-control wildland fires to be aware of the real threat we face here.

The proposed tax measure is a strong step in the right direction. As it progresses toward the ballot, its authors should listen and show a willingness to make improvements, where possible, but they need to keep moving forward.

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