SAN BERNARDINO — The new fire tax charged to most county property owners was back on the table for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors as they met Tuesday morning and discussed different ways to fund the fire district after the FP-5 expansion area sunsets next year.
After fire protection zone 5 was expanded to most county areas last year, county fire leaders went in front of the board of supervisors on June 11 to ask for a 3 percent increase to the $157 per-parcel fee.
Instead, the board voted not only to deny the increase but also to set no FP-5 fee next year with the hopes of being able to replace the fire district’s funding mechanisms with a tax measure in the upcoming general election.
Gary McBride, the county chief executive officer, presented options to the supervisors with help from Deputy Fire Chief Don Trapp.
The FP-5 tax brings in $41.5 million and it was expected to increase by $1.2 million next year with the 3 percent increase.
McBride said the board could try to get voters to pass a special tax — either a parcel tax, a fire tax or a community facilities district, or a transaction tax — either a general purpose tax or a special purpose tax.
During public comments, several community members spoke about the need to shore up funding for fire services.
While many spoke in favor of keeping FP-5, others called the process for the expansion of FP-5 unlawful. While they disagreed on the funding mechanism, everyone agreed that funding the fire district was vital.
Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe, who represents the Morongo Basin, agreed the expansion of FP-5 was done in a way that was unfair.
“It was a very distasteful process and that’s why we’re here today,” she said.
Property owners could protest the tax by downloading a form and mailing it.
Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford agreed with Rowe and said her goal ultimately is to bring the tax to a public vote.
“The protest process is not sufficient for creating a new tax,” said Rutherford. “The protest process isn’t simple; it’s difficult and complicated and requires extra effort for people. That’s why affirmative action is the way to go.”
One question is where the money will come from if voters don’t pass a new tax.
In the past, funding for fire services has come out of the general fund. Since the money needed to make up the deficit from the expansion area would be about $26.9 million, the board expressed concern about who would lose out on that money.
Another question was if they were only rolling back on the recent expansion of FP-5. Before the zone was expanded last year, a few areas were already part of FP-5.
Most supervisors agreed that the recent expansion was the main issue and, before the expansion, most of the agencies in FP-5 had requested to be included, like Twentynine Palms.
Twentynine Palms’ only funding for fire comes from the FP-5 tax, while cities like Yucca Valley, which was part of the recent expansion, also pays for through property taxes.
Ultimately, the board decided to direct staff to bring back more information, with the goal of working out a plan before the next general election. The $157 charge for FP-5 will still be in place until January 2021.
Every property owner in the Morongo Basin will be charged that money except for those in Morongo Valley.