HERCULES -- A ballot measure in the Rodeo-Hercules Fire Protection District could trigger a challenge to benefit assessments as a tool to raise revenue for fire districts.
A public hearing before the Rodeo-Hercules board Wednesday night marked the end of the voting period for the measure, which would impose an assessment of $82 a year on single-family houses and $46.93 for condos and apartments. Stores would pay $60.30 per one-fifth acre while industrial properties would pay varying rates, based on fire risk and replacement cost of structures. The results won't be known until June 11.
The measure, which is supposed to raise almost $1 million a year for enhanced fire protection and emergency response, requires majority approval by property owners, with ballots weighted according to property type and, for nonresidential properties, size and other factors.
Alex Aliferis, executive director of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, warns that fire districts, faced with the difficulty of passing special parcel taxes requiring two-thirds voter majorities, will increasingly look to benefit assessments as alternative funding mechanisms.
"East Contra Costa can't seem to pass a parcel tax," Aliferis said, referring to the unsuccessful June 2012, $197-a-year Measure S in the East Contra Costa Fire district, "so they're studying a benefit assessment. What's next? ConFire?"
A report on the Contra Costa County Fire District, popularly known as ConFire, by consultant Fitch and Associates envisions another revenue measure within two or three years. In November 2012, Measure Q, a $75-a-year ConFire parcel tax measure, went down to defeat.
The results of Rodeo-Hercules' measure will be unveiled at a public hearing June 11, said John Bliss, vice president of SCI Consulting Group of Fairfield, which ran the election. The ballots will be tabulated by Carol Keane & Associates, Certified Public Accountants, of Walnut Creek.
Aliferis referred to an April 2 letter from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District opposing a proposed "fire suppression assessment" in that district. The organization holds that fire suppression is ineligible for benefit assessment financing because it is a general, communitywide benefit, not a special benefit accruing to individual parcels.
Another letter from the Jarvis association, this one to Aliferis, dated Wednesday, makes a similar point about Rodeo-Hercules' measure.
"We wrote and sponsored Proposition 218, which added article XIII D to the California Constitution in 1996, in part for the purpose of restricting the use of assessments," both letters note.
Rodeo-Hercules district counsel Richard Pio Roda opined that the measure is in compliance with the law, citing a report from SCI, which explains that it complies because the services to be funded are clearly defined and will be provided directly to all benefited property in the district. Moreover, the report argues, the benefit will be over and beyond general benefits conferred on real property in the district.
Aliferis, asked whether his organization would challenge Rodeo-Hercules' benefit assessment if it passes, said, "No comment."