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Butte County Exploring New Firefighting Tax

Rising costs and budget shortfalls have led Butte County officials to proceed with a possible reorganization of rural firefighting and perhaps firefighting throughout the county, which could lead to residents paying more.

According to Butte County Supervisor Steve Lambert it’s a problem that’s faced seemingly every year.

“Ever since I’ve been on this board, we’ve, every year we go through this. Trying to (figure out) how we’re going to pay for fire?” Lambert said. 

Costs continue to inch higher while revenue is comparatively stagnant, which has led the county – which contracts with Cal Fire for service – looking to shutter firehouses and approach municipalities, hat in hand, trying to get them to shoulder more of the burden.

The issues grew more acute after Cal Fire firefighters won a raise in a new contract statewide. Officials said there was an annual shortfall of between $1 million and $2 million for fire protection.

Property owners could close that hole with an annual tax of between $25 and $45 per parcel. A report last year determined that ending the county’s contract with Cal Fire would not be cost effective.

The tax would need approval from two thirds of voters, the county’s Local Area Formation Commission and final approval from the board of supervisors.

Lambert joined supervisors Doug Teeter and Larry Wahl in doubting the tax would pass muster with enough voters.

“If you go through this process and the people don’t vote it in they’ve made a decision – ‘hey, this is, I understand that, and I understand that you know our services are going to go down … and that’s fine,’” Lambert said.

The issue may appear on the ballot in March 2020. 

The Board of Supervisors also unanimously approved construction of a new county jail, evidence room and morgue. Completion of the new facilities is scheduled for January 29, 2022.

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