Jack Durham: Taxpayers League’s unsound financial advice will cost you dearly

Taxpayer leagues are supposed to look out for our pocketbooks and demand fiscal responsibility, but that’s not the case in Humboldt County.

If the Humboldt County Taxpayers League gets its way and defeats a proposed Arcata Fire District tax measure in November, the residents of McKinleyville, Arcata, Bayside, Jacoby Creek and Manila will continue to have an understaffed fire department, putting lives and billions of dollars of assets at risk. 

It’s likely that our fire insurance rating will be downgraded, meaning our insurance rates will go up. The savings from shooting down the tax will be dwarfed by the increase in insurance premiums. 

We’ll ultimately pay more, and get less. How is that fiscally responsible?

In a letter submitted to the Union, Humboldt Taxpayers League President Uri Driscoll tries to raise doubts about the Arcata Fire District with vague suspicions. 

Why, he wonders, did the district not close the Mad River Station? He seems to insinuate that there was something fishy about the decision. That’s nonsense.

The Arcata Fire District Board of Directors met publicly and discussed its options. The most equitable option was to close stations on a rotating basis. All communities are receiving equal treatment.

Driscoll then laments that the district didn’t build a station on Sunset Avenue, a project that was ditched years ago.  

But Driscoll fails to mention that the project was rejected for a good reason – cost estimates for building at the site were $8 million to $14 million – well beyond anything that could be raised by the non-profit  Arcata Volunteer Firefighters’ Association, an entity that is separate from the AFD. 

Driscoll also suggests other options, such as making changes to AFD’s dispatch service or teaming up with CalFire or Humboldt Bay Fire, could help solve the district’s financial crisis. 

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Efforts are already underway to bring down the costs of dispatch services. As for working with Humboldt Bay Fire or CalFire, consider this: both of those agencies require three firefighters on an engine, no less.

Arcata Fire is limping along with two firefighters on an engine. It’s unlikely that those agencies would compromise safety and lower their standards. 

While there may be some merits to teaming up with other agencies, there’s an inescapable truth under all scenarios – money is needed to pay firefighters. There’s no way around it.

And while there may be some efficiencies with teaming up with CalFire or Humboldt Bay, keep in mind that their firefighters get paid more than AFD firefighters.  Those options would likely cost more, not less.

Driscoll writes “Arcata Fire admits and has shown it can operate effectively with two stations.”

Arcata Fire is operating with the resources it has. As a result, there are station closures, which means response times can be delayed. 

It’s a crapshoot, of course. It depends where the call is and what station is closed.

The taxpayer league wants the AFD to close its Mad River Station and sell it.

So what does that mean for, say, the elderly residents of the Lazy J Mobile Home Park?

According to AFD, the average response time from the Mad River Station to the Lazy J is two minutes and 15 seconds. 

When the Mad River Station is closed, the firefighters respond from the Downtown Arcata Station, with the average response time being 10 minutes and 30 seconds. 

That’s a best-case scenario and assumes the engine is not out on another call. The delay could be much longer, perhaps 15 minutes or more.

When someone is having a heart attack or their home is on fire, imagine the difference that 8 minutes and 15 seconds can make. Or 15 minutes.

If you want to save money, save property and save lives, support the AFD tax measure on Nov. 3. 

If you want to pay higher insurance premiums and have reduced response times when you have a medical emergency or fire at your home or business, then follow the fiscally unsound advice of the Humboldt Taxpayers League.



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