Tax increase highlights town hall

During District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler’s final town hall of the year at the Oakhurst Community Center last week, around 60 Mountain Area residents were updated on everything from a potential public safety tax to wood burning stove programs.

At heart of a potential sales tax increase to 8.5%, from the county’s 8% rate, is additional funding for the sheriff’s department and Cal Fire, which officials have said lacks proper staffing and relies on outdated equipment.

Under Proposition 218, which requires a vote for all tax increases, funds from the higher rate will be designated specifically for those two agencies, not to be used for other projects or services.

Wheeler told the crowd at the meeting, held Nov. 19, the county is discussing how to split the additional funds, with a higher percentage going to Cal Fire, should voters approve the increase.

After questions from the crowd Bill Ritchey, a longtime Mountain Area resident with experience working in emergency services, said it’s a necessary move and there are other benefits to having more firefighters or sheriff’s deputies, besides preventing fires or crime.

“We should have a professional rescuer there to any emergency in a timely manner, which can affect a rescue and save a life,” Ritchey said. “It’s significant having the right people in the right place at the right time ... I want the very best care for my loved ones, for me, and for all of you in the community.”

Also during the meeting, Jaime Holt, chief communications officer for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, explained for those looking to upgrade their wood burning stoves or other similar devices, there are grant funds available to help cover the costs.

To replace a device, $1,000 is available, with an additional $500 if it uses propane, Holt said. Lower income residents can get up to $2,500 instead.