The backers of Measure L, which would raise money for public safety throughout unincorporated Madera County, believe the tax will be necessary to save property and lives.
The election is scheduled for March 7.
“I can tell you very definitely,” said Bill Ritchey of Raymond, that when lives are saved in an emergency, being there in that first, critical few minutes can implement CPR, maintain airways, stop bleeding. If paramedics can’t get there in those first few minutes, you could be dealing with a brain-dead person.”
Ritchey, a nurse anesthetist at a Fresno trauma center, is a former paramedic.
“I have a lot of passion for this,” he said.
Ritchey said money spent on emergency services such as firefighting, sheriff’s calls and paramedics has not grown with the population.
“When developments came, the county didn’t force any mitigation fees. All you have to do is drive through Oakhurst and see what a mess that is. There is never proper planning and provision for that growth.
“Two stations have closed in the last four years because of lack of volunteers. Coarsegold is closed. Dairyland closed. In the 1980s, the county took away the firefighter from the Chowchilla area station. All they did was move the people to the south and the east, but never replaced that staffing.”
Ritchey said the staffing model the county uses for firefighting is the same it has had since 1928.
The 1 percent sales tax provided by Measure L would:
• Provide 25 additional career firefighters, and would staff a 2nd firefighter on engines that now have only one.
• Open three additional fire stations staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
• Help recruit volunteers by paying for training and medical calls.
• Buy three new, modern fire engines.
• Hire nine new sheriff’s deputies.
• Shorten response times, thus saving lives and property.
Current staffing levels in the sheriff’s department do not allow for daily staffing of all patrol beats, according to information from Madera County Safety First, backers of the Measure L. This, the backers say, can lead to limiting preventative patrolling, and limiting proactive activity and follow-up in crime-prevention initiative.
Measure L will only finance improvements in law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical services in the unincorporated areas of the county.
There was some confusion a few weeks ago when promotional material for the measure was mailed to homes in the city, but that was an error by the mailer, Ritchey said.
The City of Madera passed its own public safety tax, Measure K, last year. The city and county, Ritchey said, originally were going to combine their public-safety needs into one measure, but they determined two measures were needed.
The county’s measure has tougher requirements for passage — it requires 67 percent approval — and the money raised, by law, can be spent on nothing else except the uses enumerated in the ballot measure itself. It also will sunset at the end of 20 years.