The Rodeo-Hercules Fire District will wait until spring at the earliest to pass the hat to voters.
The district's governing board decided this week not to put a tax measure on the November ballot after its election consultant, Tramutola Advisors of Oakland, warned that a Rodeo-Hercules measure could suffer from competition with statewide tax measures.
Instead, the board is contemplating a parcel tax measure or a benefit assessment measure in the spring, pending the outcome of a California Supreme Court case involving Prop. 218, the 1996 Right to Vote on Taxes Act.
Rodeo-Hercules officials hope the outcome of that case will determine to what extent a new benefit assessment, widely perceived as easier to pass, would be a feasible financing tool.
Taxes generally are defined as revenue levies that benefit the general public. General taxes can be used for an array of government purposes and require majority voter approval. Special taxes are earmarked for specific purposes and require two-thirds voter approval. A recent example is a June 5 parcel tax measure in the East Contra Costa Fire District to preserve emergency services, add paramedics and prevent more layoffs and fire station closures. It fell far short of the needed two-thirds majority; only 43.5 percent of voters approved.
Benefit assessments are levied on property and calculated according to the property's share of the total benefit. In a benefit assessment measure,
The benefit assessment needs a simple majority of the weighted vote to pass.
The Rodeo-Hercules Fire District's projected budget of $4.9 million for fiscal year 2012-13 is nearly balanced, with a deficit of less than $100,000. But that was accomplished by the closure of one of the district's two stations and the elimination of positions left vacant when firefighters retired.
A Tramutola representative noted that the amount of the tax sought in the East County fire district -- $197 a year per residential parcel in the first year, climbing to $257 by year 10 -- was more than twice the amount voters were inclined to approve, according to a survey by that district's consultant.
A phone survey in the Rodeo-Hercules district by Tramutola Advisors last year found that a $75 parcel tax would fall slightly short of a two-thirds majority, but a campaign to educate voters about the issues could boost that figure. A mail survey conducted by the consultant several months later revealed slightly more than 50 percent of the voters would approve an $82 benefit assessment.
There were no available projections as to how much money various levies might raise.
The Contra Costa civil grand jury recently recommended that fire districts look to ways other than revenue-raising ballot measures to meet expenses, such as lowering labor costs, developing alternative service models and consolidating smaller districts with larger ones.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760.