Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Aug. 10 @ 1:14 p.m.
Proposed Fire District Benefit Assessment Repeal Fails to Get Signatures; Petition Author Says She Likely Won't Try Again
A petition to repeal a 2021 Crescent Fire Protection District benefit assessment failed to get the signatures necessary to place the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Its author, county resident Linda Sutter, who last year threatened recalls and lawsuits against the fire district’s board members over the assessment, says it’s unlikely she’ll pursue another attempt at a repeal.
“After reading an ad-hoc committee report on the ambulance situation in our county, it is my opinion that our firefighters get trained to become advanced life support responders, which takes money,” Sutter told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Tuesday, referring to a report from county supervisors Valerie Starkey and Darrin Short on Del Norte Ambulance’s performance.
Sutter said after reading the anecdotal information last month on Del Norte Ambulance, which seeks to be grandfathered into an exclusive operating agreement in the county, she has a new appreciation for the work firefighters do.
“I believe all property owners in this county should pay this fire tax instead of a few,” she said.
Last year, the Crescent Fire Protection District asked property owners in its district to approve a $74 property tax assessment to replace an $18 assessment that sunset at the end of 2021.
Property owners narrowly approved the assessment in June 2021, but human error contributed to a miscount of ballots that initially showed that the assessment initially failed.
At a fire district meeting June 16, 2021, County Clerk Recorder Alissia Northrup told board members that a “yes” ballot had been accidentally sorted into a pile of ballots containing “no” ballots. That error wasn’t caught and the “yes” ballot was counted as a vote against the assessment, she said.
Following a recount, of the ballots, Northrup’s office concluded that the benefit assessment had passed by a $17.80 margin over the votes against it. Benefit assessment results are based on the assessed value of each of the different property classes in the fire protection district, including residential, commercial, multi-family or mobile home, according to retired fire chief, Bill Gillespie.
On Monday, Northrup’s office reported that Sutter’s petition failed to gather the 243 signatures required to place it on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. Though the petition had 398 signatures, 164 were deemed invalid with most of the signatories living outside the Crescent Fire Protection District, according to Northrup’s report.
“They were short less than 10 signatures,” Northrup told the Outpost.
In July 2021, after the Crescent Fire Protection District Board of Directors certified the recount of the benefit assessment ballots, Sutter threatened a recall against each official, saying “there’s going to be a lawsuit over this because none of it was done right.”
On Tuesday, Sutter told the Outpost that she and other proponents of the benefit assessment repeal failed to get the required number of signatures because she had COVID-19 for two weeks and couldn’t go door-to-door.
Sutter authored the first petition to repeal Measure R, the county’s 1 percent sales tax that voters approved in 2020. Because of the way the proposed initiative was written, however, it wouldn’t have repealed the tax ordinance, just the resolution that placed the proposed tax measure on the 2020 ballot.
Del Norte supervisors on July 26 certified a re-written Measure R repeal initiative for the November ballot.
A similar repeal for Measure S, the city’s 1 percent sales tax measure, is also expected to go before voters in the fall. Sutter said she’s not part of that effort.