Layoffs planned after fire tax fails in rural California — on same day firefighters are injured

The same day two of their firefighters were nearly killed when their engine was destroyed by a wildfire, El Dorado County property owners rejected a parcel tax that would have kept one of them on the payroll.

Fifty-four percent of the 1,067 voters in the Garden Valley Fire Protection District voted “no” to raise their parcel taxes and keep three of the six district firefighters from receiving layoff notices, said Chief Clive Savacool.

Voters’ mail-in ballots were being counted Tuesday as two Garden Valley firefighters were hurt battling the 85-acre Country Fire northeast of the town of Cool. The front of their fire engine was nearly melted to slag.

“They were nearly killed but were able to escape with minor injuries,” Savacool said. “Unfortunately, one of the two is now being given a layoff notice.”

The assessment would have levied an additional $71 to $182 annual fee on each parcel in the district. The $400,000 in revenue would have allowed the district to keep two firefighters on duty 24 hours a day, Savacool said.

Now, three firefighters will be looking for work next year when funding runs out, Savacool said.

It’s the second time in two weeks that voters in this conservative — and dangerously fire-prone region — rejected a parcel tax that would have paid for firefighters.

Last week, 62 percent of voters in the El Dorado County Fire Protection District, voted “no” for Measure B, which would have levied a $96 a year parcel tax on property owners.

The $2.6 million that tax would have generated annually would have gone to fund additional firefighting positions to serve communities such as Apple Hill, Coloma, Placerville, Pollock Pines and Shingle Springs.

Local taxpayer groups opposed Measure B, arguing there were no guarantees the funds would go where they were promised, and they are overtaxed as it is.

El Dorado County sits in one of California’s highest-risk regions for a catastrophic wildfire. The threats are comparable to Paradise, which was all but destroyed last year in the state’s most destructive wildfire. Eight-six people died.

Now that the parcel taxes tanked, the county’s residents will have to increasingly rely on Cal Fire — the state’s fire fighting agency — to provide fire protection, though Savacool said the agency doesn’t provide routine medical coverage and it has no obligation to back fill local firefighter staffing shortages during house fires.

In rural El Dorado County, it’s common to see roadside signs advocating for forming a new State of Jefferson. The Jefferson activists seek to secede from California and form a new state with lower taxes, less regulations and fewer liberals.

Ryan Sabalow covers environment, general news and enterprise and investigative stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. Before joining The Bee in 2015, he was a reporter at The Auburn Journal, The Redding Record Searchlight and The Indianapolis Star.