Fire signs - measures 2019

Signs for west county fire district measures C, E and F.

Well, as my mother used to say, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.” In local fire district elections, fresh memories of the Kincade Fire spurred voters to approve measures in all four fire protection districts: Bodega Bay, Occidental, Graton and Gold Ridge, though the Gold Ridge measure is winning by the thinnest of margins.

The following election results are from the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters. These results are considered “unofficial,” because there are still some mail-in ballots to be counted. The registrar expects to finalize the vote count and certify the election by early December.

Fire district elections

Bodega Bay’s Measure D was a purely administrative measure that allowed the fire district to spend the money they already had. 93.9% of voters gave them the thumbs up to do so.

With Measure C, Occidental Community Services District persuaded voters to say ‘yes’ to a $200 per residence parcel tax ($300-plus for commercial parcels) to allow the all-volunteer Occidental Fire Department to hire paid firefighters for the first time. The measure, which would raise approximately $250,000 annually, passed by a 81.77% margin.

“Occidental voters have spoken and shown their fire department is an important investment. We will move forward with the process of hiring daytime staff at the earliest possible time that funding is available,” said Occidental Fire Chief Ron Lunardi. 

In the Graton Fire District, voters gave the nod to Measure F, which would create a $250 per residence parcel tax, with $300-plus for commercial parcels. The measure is expected to raise $800,000 annually and will be used to hire paid firefighters for the first time in the history of the all-volunteer department.  The measure sailed to victory with 74.78% of the vote.

"Appreciate that the voters agreed Graton Fire has reached the next stage of our department's future. We look forward to hiring our first career staff and delivering a great level of service to our community!" Graton Fire Chief Bill Bullard said.

The outlier in this fire district victory march is Gold Ridge Fire Protection District. Voters approved Measure E by a very thin margin, just 67.93%. Proposition 13, enacted in 1978, requires that parcel taxes must win 66.67% of the vote. Measure E would create a $200 per residence parcel tax, $300-plus for commercial parcels. This is Gold Ridge’s second parcel tax for fire. Landowners already pay $65 per parcel per year, which might account for the district’s voters’ relatively tepid endorsement of this second tax.

 “We'll keep an eye on the vote count as its not over until the last ballot is counted, but we think we're in a strong position to win passage of Measure E,” Gold Ridge Chief Shepley Schroth-Cary said on Tuesday night. “Our volunteers worked incredibly hard to help get the word out, and it feels great to have the confidence of our voters going forward.”

Other races

In the election for the Occidental Community Services District board, the top three winners prevailed: Ray Lunardi with 441 votes, Steven McNeal with 382 votes and Coy Brown with 279, edging out Carol Schmitt, who received 253 votes.

In the election for the Forestville Water District board, the top three winners were Matthew McDermott with 230 votes, Heather Aldridge with 193 votes and Diane Hughes with 182 votes. Newcomers Aldridge and Hughes beat longtime board members Don Reha and Richard Benyo, who didn’t submit candidate statements. Like most small town elections, this one was ignored by the press, including this paper, which regrets this error. No candidate forums were held by the district, which left voters with no information on candidates, except for word of mouth and the candidate statements in the voter’s guide.

Turnout

The real loser of the evening though was the electoral process itself. Only 26.79% of registered voters turned out to vote. That means that out of the 41,959 registered voters in west county, only 11,239 showed up. We can do better.

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