Paul Nicholson: The shadowy, fact-averse Humboldt County Taxpayers League

Recently the President of the Humboldt Taxpayers League, Uri Driscoll, posted a letter under the Opinion section of the Mad River Union. It was titled “Measure R regurgitated.” In the article, Mr. Driscoll made some egregious statements that need to be brought to the attention of the news media. 

I responded on Nextdoor by saying the following! IT IS SO DISAPPOINTING Once again Uri Driscoll from Humboldt County Taxpayers League made incorrect statements. Recently in the Mad River Union, he said “For comparison Eureka has voted to reduce Humboldt Bay Fire’s compensation by 14 percent at the same time Arcata Fire wants to raise their compensation by 50 percent by putting a recycled tax measure on the ballot.” He could not be more wrong and it is dangerous to say this! 

I continued on Nextdoor by saying “Humboldt Bay Fire has not taken a pay cut. The City of Eureka cut some funding to Humboldt Bay Fire due to the sales tax decrease caused by COVID 19 but compensation has not been cut. A simple call to Eureka Fire Chief Sean Robertson would have educated Mr. Driscoll that Humboldt Bay Fire reduced its allocation to JPS by $80,000 and took $740,000 from reserves.

Sixty percent of Humboldt Bay Fire is funded by the City. AFD’s last pay adjustment was 2016. Measure F allows for COLA (cost of living adjustment) for the Department. Saying AFD wants to raise their compensation by 50 percent is an “untruth.” It does so much damage not being truthful. AFD gets no funding from the City of Arcata.

I continued on Nextdoor by saying “Humboldt Bay Fire responds to approximately 6,000 calls per year and has five stations. Arcata Fire responds to approximately 4,000 calls per year. With the failure of Measure R, we only have two stations that can respond. Mr Driscoll seems to not understand the stress his recommendations places on AFD or the danger to all of the property and people in our District his recommendations create.”

On Nextdoor I also said “In one of Mr. Driscoll’s posts on Nextdoor he said “Guys, I don’t sit by my computer all day. I have work to do.” If he does not have time to get his facts right, he should not be commenting on any issue!” 

My last comment on Nextdoor I said “In the article, Mr. Driscoll also continues to want to get rid of the Mad River station and keep Downtown Arcata and McKinleyville stations. Each station was strategically placed five minutes apart. His recommendation puts one-third of the District at risk and potentially adds five minutes to a fire or EMS call. If your house is on fire or your loved one needs help, are you willing to wait an additional five minutes? It could be the difference between life and death or a flash on a fire.

Please watch this five-minute YouTube video on how long it takes for a fire to go to flash.

For weeks I have been trying to learn about HCTL. From what I have researched, nonprofits should have and post annual board meetings. On their site, the last board meeting was Sept. 5, 2018. I think they are also required to list their board members for all to see. When I go to their website I cannot find an address or a phone number. I also do not see any information about the board members.

I would like to know something about the people and their qualifications since they are making comments that affect the residents’ lives and property of the Arcata Fire District. In contrast, the League of Women Voters posts their address, phone number and board members and is totally transparent. 

One of the Nextdoor members found a State of California form, S1-100, Statement of Information for Domestic Nonprofits. On that form the Corporate name listed is The Humboldt Taxpayers League, which is not the same name that is listed on the website. There is a Corporate Number listed, C0482506. 

I have searched under and to check the nonprofit status of the Humboldt County Taxpayers League or The Humboldt Taxpayers League. Each site says No Results Found. I don’t understand why. Perhaps an investigation from the news media will bring to light the egregious comments by Humboldt County Taxpayers League and shed some light on their organization. 

I am attaching a copy of the letter I sent to Kent Sawatzky, executive director and Uri Driscoll, president of Humboldt County Taxpayers League (see below). I am hoping to get a response from them. Perhaps they will respond to the news media. Thank you for looking into this matter. Millions of dollars of property and thousands of lives are in jeopardy if Measure F does not pass. 

Last election Measure R loss by about 3 percent. I think with the community really understanding the importance of this Measure, it will pass this time. Thank you! 

Paul Nicholson is a retired insurance agent with over 39 years of experience.


Taking Taxpayers League to task

July 12, 2020


Attn: Kent Sawatzky, executive director

A few weeks ago, there was a fire on Old Arcata Road. With the failure of Measure R, one of the three stations had to close and many firefighters have left or found other more secure jobs because of the lack of funding. Fortunately, the two closest fire stations were manned, which left McKinleyville residents unmanned when the fire occurred. The fire started in the attic so it was inside the home. Were you aware that when the first team arrived from the Arcata station, they were not allowed to enter the home until a second crew arrived? On this day, the Mad River station was manned which added about five minutes to the call. If the rotation would have had the Arcata or Mad River station closed, the second crew would have had to come from McKinleyville, which would had added about 10 minutes to the call. By “luck” the two closest stations were manned. Your recommendation puts thousands of people and millions of dollars of property in peril? Were you aware that your recommendation could add five minutes to every life-saving or fire emergency? 

One of Humboldt County Taxpayers Leagues suggestions was to man the stations with new volunteers that need to be trained. Your recommendation against Measure R has decimated the fire department staff and reduced funding so much that this is not possible. Were you aware that with minimal staffing, it will be extremely difficult to train new volunteers? Did you know the average time a volunteer stays with AFD is 1.4 years before being hired by another fire agency or resigning due to extensive time requirements? Did you know the District has seen more than 200 volunteer firefighters come and go in the last 16 years? Did you know it takes many years of training for volunteers to become proficient in a dangerous fire or life-saving EMT call. It has been several months since Measure R barely failed. To date, what has HCTL done to recruit, train and pay for the new volunteers that are desperately needed?

Were you aware your recommendation made the Fire Department change their policy so now every call they must take the $750,000 fire truck instead of a $50,000 pickup that was equipped with the necessary gear? With one less station to respond, this was necessary in case a fire call comes in. Forty-five percent of the approximate 4000 calls are EMT related. This means thousands of miles will be unnecessarily being placed on a $750,000 fire truck instead of a $50,000 PU. Did you know one tire on the fire truck costs more than four tires on the pickup truck and it uses much more gas? Did you know your recommendation added thousands of dollars of costs to the Fire Department without a way to replace the assets that are being worn out as they age?

Several long-term Firefighters left because of the failure of Measure R. Those people had thousands of hours experience and knew the backroads and idiosyncrasies of our area. Did you realize your recommendation puts everyone in the Arcata Fire District in peril? This includes the first responders and the people and property they protect!

Did you know that PERS retirement requires AFD to pay a percentage of a Firefighters retirement? If a Firefighter had 10 years with the department, left and worked 20 years somewhere else, AFD would have to pay one-third of their retirement. They would have not received any benefit from their trained firefighter for 20 years but would still be responsible for one-third of their retirement. Other departments typically pay more so this just adds to the increasing problem of AFD. Failure of Measure R complicates being able to fund this increasing liability which is required by PERS. Were you aware of this? How do you plan on helping AFD pay for this increasing liability?

The last funding measure was passed in 2006. At that time the minimum wage was $6.75 per hour. This year the minimum wage has increased to $12 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees and $13 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees. This alone is an indication of increasing costs and that is only wages. Costs of equipment has skyrocketed too! 

Did HCTL consider the increased response time for an EMT call with the closure of one station? Does HCTL want to take responsibility for this? Even a few minutes can be the difference between life and death or brain injury that could cause a life-time effect. 

Mr. Sawatzky when we talked the other day, I asked if you attended any of the informational meetings AFD hosted prior to the last election. You said no! There were six meetings and I attended four. At each meeting I learned more. There were similar questions asked and new questions that brought new information to discuss. Why wouldn’t you take the time to come to at least one meeting to see what was being discussed? I learned more at one meeting than from all I read before and after the meetings.

You have asked for full disclosure and by not attending the meetings, you have missed much of the complicated discussions on why AFD did and does what they do. You owe it to the people of Arcata Fire District to be more informed. These are only a few of the many issues that were discussed in great detail at the meetings you did not attend. 

When we talked, I said I would be mailing a certified letter to you. You requested that I mail a regular letter so you may see it sooner. I will honor your request. You then said you “may or may not” respond to my letter. If you chose not to sign for the certified letter to prove you received it, would you please call me to let me know you received the letter? You have my number!

We also discussed the EIN (Employer Identification Number) of Humboldt County Taxpayers League. This number appears to be required so IRS form 990 can be filed annually. You did not have it available when we talked. I will be looking forward to hearing from you about that soon. 

Chief McDonald has explained why Measure R was necessary and why your suggestions were not adequate. Absolutely everything he said would happen, has happened. Now that you know your recommendations were not adequate, I hope you will support Arcata Fire Department. 

Paul Nicholson



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