MARIN COUNTY (CBS SF) — Next March, Marin County property owners will vote on a new parcel tax to fund wildfire prevention efforts, an issue that has been on the minds of residents in the rural county.
Something extraordinary happened at Tuesday’s Marin County Supervisors meeting. The board voted to put a hefty new tax on the ballot and absolutely no one who got up to speak was against it.
That’s because the issue the tax aims to address is wildfires. Marin residents have held their breath watching fires in Sonoma County, knowing they live in exactly the same kind of environment.
But so far, fire prevention in Marin has been a piecemeal effort.
“Fire agencies respond seamlessly together in terms of response,” said Novato Fire Chief Bill Tyler. “But what you don’t have is one single group that can address prevention and mitigation for wildfires.”
So voters will consider a parcel tax on homes and businesses of up to ten cents per square foot to fund the new Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority. The unified effort would address issues like making homes more fire resistant, clearing vegetation along evacuation routes and creating a new wildfire alert system.
Another issue the authority will look at is insurance. People living in wooded neighborhoods are seeing their policies triple in cost or get cancelled altogether. The county’s hoping that with a coordinated prevention effort, companies will see this as an area that’s safe to insure.
The tax could amount to hundreds of dollars per year for homeowners and — though a local tax watchdog group called Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers supports the measure — they’re not sure of its chances.
“I don’t know that it’s an automatic ‘yes’ vote, that it will clear the 2/3 hurdle,” said group president Mimi Willard. “But I believe it has very good chance of doing so, because there is a real sense within Marin of our collective vulnerability because of our very large accumulated fuel load.”
The fact is, while most support the idea of wildfire prevention, the public does seem to be experiencing some tax fatigue.
“It just never ends. There’s always just more and more and more,” said Novato homeowner Sharyn Mitchell.
“The cities should work with the funds that they get from the taxes and quit putting it all on the property owners,” said Sid Lewin of San Rafael.
Nanci Boyd, who also lives in San Rafael, said she will probably vote for the measure but seemed a bit weary over the whole thing.
“We’re taxed for everything else anyway, right?” Boyd said. “Just add another one to the pile!”
If the measure passes with a 2/3 vote, it would raise more than $19 million annually for the next 10 years. But Fire Chief Tyler says if it fails, the newly formed Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority will have to be disbanded.