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Sonoma County fire officials bracing for loss over tax to boost firefighting efforts

With as much as 47% of ballots still outstanding from Tuesday’s election, fire officials were holding out hope that a proposed half-cent sales tax increase meant to bolster Sonoma County firefighting services would pass, though its prospects weren’t looking good Wednesday.

Measure G had received 62% of the vote, falling short of the two-thirds majority it needs to pass. The proposed tax increase, which has no sunset date, would generate about $51 million annually, boosting the budgets of some three dozen fire agencies.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed, and perhaps the remaining votes will help push it over the top,” said Mark Heine, chief of the Sonoma County Fire District. “But it’s not looking good.”

If the outcome holds - the next county update on election results is Friday - it will sink the latest and most significant effort by local fire agencies to modernize the county’s outdated and underfunded firefighting network. Most revenue from the tax would fund wildfire response and prevention efforts, as well as firefighter recruitment and retention.

While Heine had seen large support for the measure, he said that a two-thirds majority was a “very high threshold” to meet, adding that many voters were likely swayed by their antipathy for tax increases.

“It’s very disappointing, especially after what this county has experienced in the last two years of fires,” Heine said of the vote. “We’re going to do what we do best, which is we adapt and we overcome and we try to find new pathways forward, but certainly finding another $51 million funding opportunity is just not visible to us right now.”

You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter ?@ChantelleHLee.

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