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Measure G, sales tax to boost firefighting efforts, appears headed for defeat

A permanent half-cent sales tax increase to bolster the budgets of dozens of large and small local firefighting agencies in Sonoma County appeared to be headed for a defeat with every precinct counted Wednesday morning.

Measure G had received the support of 62% of voters, or 62,564 yes votes out of 101,278 votes reported at all 526 precincts, according to county election data.

The measure, which would generate an estimated $51 million annually for about three dozen separate fire agencies, needs two-thirds support to pass.

Supporters of the tax had quietly argued it would give much-needed support to the local firefighting network, a patchwork of major agencies and much smaller volunteer firefighting districts. Most revenue from the tax, which would exist in perpetuity, is supposed to fund new and improved alert systems, wildfire response and prevention efforts including vegetation management, equipment and facilities and firefighter recruitment and retention.

“I think it's probably going to be as close as we thought it was going to be,” said Mark Heine, chief of the Sonoma County Fire District, who had advocated in favor of Measure G. He noted that tens of thousands of votes had yet to be counted: “I'm optimistic. I think it's going to pass.”

The tax follows 2017's devastating and deadly wildfires, the 2018 Camp fire that virtually destroyed the town of Paradise and sent smoke into the North Bay, and the 2019 Kincade fire that menaced Windsor and Santa Rosa, spurred the largest mass evacuation in local history and became the county's largest ever wildfire.

The vote on Measure G also comes amid a push to consolidate local fire agencies, which have dipped in number from more than 50 at one point to 38 now.

The Tubbs fire particularly weighed on the mind of Randi Keeton, a 29-year-old mental health counselor - in large part because her husband is an officer with the California Highway Patrol who was busy trying to get people to safety on that hectic night in October 2017.

For voters like her and others who cast ballots at Herbert Slater Middle School in east Santa Rosa, voting for higher taxes to fund a stronger firefighting network was a no-brainer following that deadly and devastating wildfire.

“That had such a massive impact on our community,” Keeton said, “and we have to do something.”

Election day came and went after a deliberately quiet pre-election period for the fire tax's advocates. There was no organized opposition against Measure G. A ballot argument against the proposal was submitted by supervisorial candidate Michael Hilber, who opposed Measure G on the grounds that it amounts to government overreach and “is simply too much.”

Todd Fiori, a 51-year-old school counselor, was of a similar mind, given that the sales tax rate in Sonoma County already is 8.25% and 9% in Santa Rosa.

“Sales tax already is pretty exorbitant,” he said, “and I think that our government needs to find ways to fix these things without more tax. I think there's a lot of wasted money.”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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