It’s hard to believe, but the election is less than one week away! Maybe you have been a responsible voter and you’re completely on top of it. You’ve read everything there is to read on the issues and attended all the town hall meetings and debates. You’ve already confidently filled out your sample ballot and you’re ready to go. If that is you, then you probably need not read any further. Give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it.
If, however, you’re a procrastinator — it’s OK, life gets busy sometimes — or you’ve just been too preoccupied with the Democratic primary to think about the local issues, then LoCO has got you. Depending on where in Humboldt you live, you might be voting in a Board of Supervisors race, in which case you may want to review LoCO’s coverage of the debates. As for the other items possibly showing up on your ballot, here is a look at the two most high-profile local measures.
Measure R — Arcata Fire District Special Tax
This ordinance — which needs two-thirds of the vote to pass — was placed on the ballot by the Arcata Fire District and would increase the rate of the fire protection special tax for properties to fund the district’s operational costs.
The Arcata Fire District argues that approving Measure R is critical to allow the level of service the organization provides to continue. Currently the district operates three fire stations — two in Arcata and one in McKinleyville. If measure R does not pass, AFD Board President Nicole Johnson told the Outpost, one of those stations would have to close.
Those three stations are located across a 62 mile boundary, Johnson said, and are “strategically located to provide the fastest response.” Each station costs roughly $1.5 million per year to operate, and if the fire district is unable to gain the funds it needs Johnson is not sure which of the three it would have to close. Since one cannot predict when or where a fire will break out, closing any of the stations would potentially be detrimental to the community.
As an example of the importance of having all three stations operational, Johnson referred to the fire at Big Blue Cafe in Arcata that broke out last October. “We had a less-than-two-minute response time because the [downtown] Arcata station was staffed,” Johnson said. “That fire could have been substantially worse.”
In addition to helping all three stations stay open, Measure R funding would allow the district to retain the current staff. Johnson and other representatives of Arcata Fire District hold that if the measure were to fail, at least six firefighters would have to be laid off and all three battalion chiefs would have to be demoted.
Losing staff would not only hinder the district’s ability to respond to fires, Johnson said, but also the many other types of calls it receives, such as animal rescues, service calls and medical emergency assistance.
“In general, fire calls are roughly about five percent of what we respond to,” Johnson said.
The primary opponent of Measure R is the Humboldt County Taxpayers League, which argues that the proposed property tax increase is too high compared to other districts. From the Taxpayers League’s submitted argument against the measure:
Arcata currently has one of the highest fire tax rates in the county at $88 per residence. Measure R would ADD $118 for a total Fire District tax of $206 per single family residence. For comparison Fortuna has a tax rate on a single family residence of $72, Blue Lake $36 and Ferndale $20.
To be clear, the $88 is a benefit assessment tax, which would continue to be paid. The Measure R tax of $118 would replace the current special tax. So: Currently a single-family residence pays a total of $108 annually, and if Measure R passes the total would be $206, an increase of $98.
Humboldt County Taxpayers League Executive Director Kent Sawatzky feels that the way the ballot measure is written is misleading. In the measure, the fire district calls the new tax the “total annual charge” for each type of residence but does not include the benefit assessment tax, which property owners will still need to pay.
“Our biggest thing is we want people to have the most information possible,” Sawatzky told the Outpost. “We’re all about transparency.”
Another issue Sawatsky has with the measure is the proposed rate increase for mobile home owners. Currently mobile home owners pay a total of $81 annually to the district, and if Measure R passes they would pay $156. This is too large an increase for those who can least afford it, Sawatsky said.
Sawatsky also questions if money to cover the district’s deficit could be found elsewhere, like from Measure Z funds, and thinks that Arcata Fire should consider consolidating two of the fire stations into one central station. More options need to be explored, he said, and the Taxpayers League is happy to work with the fire district to come up with an initiative everyone can agree on.
“I just don’t think throwing this amount of money at it is the the best solution,” Sawatsky said. “We look forward to putting something on the November ballot that is acceptable to all concerned.”
Measure T — Eureka City Schools Emergency Repair/ Student Safety
Placed on the ballot by Board of Education as an “emergency measure,” Measure T would authorize the sale of up to $18 million in bonds by Eureka City Schools in order to fund repairs to Eureka High School. The measure requires 55 percent of the vote to pass.
The repairs will primarily focus on improving hazardous areas of the school — particularly Albee Stadium, which “poses a significant health and safety hazard, with potentially fatal implications,” according to a press release sent out by Eureka City Schools last December.
Eureka High School Track and Field Coach Scott Pesch told the Outpost that the field has been in bad repair for the last three or four years because of a failed drainage system. Conditions worsened in the last year when sinkholes developed, forcing the closure of the field. The track team, Pesch said, has been forced to find other places to hold their practices, traveling as far as College of the Redwoods on some days.
Though these circumstances have certainly been tough on his team, Pesch says the issue is much bigger than that. He wants to see the repairs for the safety of the other athletes, students, faculty and community members who benefit from use of the stadium.
According to the school district, Measure T funds would be used not only for repairs to the stadium, but also improving ADA accessibility to the campus and upgrading the facilities to seismic safety standards. If the measure passes, it would also qualify the district for matching emergency funds from the state.
If the measure does not pass, Pesch is not sure the school would be able find the funding for the safety improvements.
“I don’t think we have a plan B,” Pesch told the Outpost. “I know the district doesn’t have the funds to do this or we wouldn’t be asking for the measure.”
Though no official argument against Measure T was filed, plenty of local citizens are against the property tax increase which will be implemented if the measure passes. (The estimated tax increase, according to the tax rate assessment, would be between $17 and $20 for every $100,000 of assessed property value.)
Cindy Broese Van Groenou — owner of Broese’s Uniforms in Eureka and executive director for the J. Rophe Medical Center — proudly proclaimed on social media that she has already voted “no” on Measure T because of the proposed tax increase.
Broese Van Groenou told the Outpost that though she understands Eureka High School needs the repairs, its costs should be covered by state and local funding already in place. Broese Van Groenou said she wants to know where the school board is spending its budget and why, whenever there is a big project, the board needs to ask the voters for more money.
“It just seems like they’re nickel-and-diming everyone to meet their needs,” she said.
You can find more information on these and the four other local measures on the Humboldt County website. If you still need to register to vote, you can do same-day registration at the Humboldt County Office of Elections — 2426 Sixth Street, Eureka. Election day is March 3.
Happy voting, Humboldt!