You must have heard of Measure V by now. It’s the Wildfire Prevention, Emergency Services and Disaster Response measure on the November ballot that would increase the local sales tax rate by ½ percent.
Many people want the County to take more action to reduce our collective risk of burning down. Since Measure V would be a General tax, it would be subject to the spending approval of the Board of Supervisors, with the revenue technically part of the County’s general fund. This worries some people who are asking questions like, “How do I know it won’t get sucked into the general fund by this Board or a future Board?”
I believe Measure V revenue and spending will be the most-watched money in Nevada County history. That intense scrutiny is how you can feel secure that the promised spending will actually happen.
What makes me say that? Let’s start with a quick review of some of the ways the County will ensure the funds are spent on what they promise, then expand on a few others I think are worth emphasizing.
The County has spelled out what they call a “system of checks and balances” that will “assure accountability and transparency.” Their main points include:
- Measure V revenue and expenses will be recorded in separate accounts distinct from other County general funds, to allow for clear tracking and reporting;
- An annual audit will be published online for all to see;
- A Citizens Oversight Committee will review revenue and expenditures for conformity to the text of the measure and report inconsistencies;
- All contracts over $50,000 will go to the Board for approval and be subject to Public Comment.
Those are all needed safeguards. But here are the ones that I think count even more.
FIRST: the County will have a dedicated webpage that you or I or anyone else can look at to see every contracting opportunity, every awarded contract, and every report, all in one place. That’s a 24/7 opportunity for all residents to be watchdogs.
SECOND: Two groups called Technical Advisory Committees (TAC – one each for eastern and western Nevada County) will meet regularly to look at what we need, much of which is already known, such as free year-round green waste disposal and better roadside clearing on county roads. The TACs will make recommendations to the Board on where the money should be spent.
The TAC members will be Office of Emergency Services (OES) staff, fire and law enforcement representatives, city and town managers, senior county staff, and nonprofit and community leaders.
Read the above paragraph again. Notice that quite a few people – many of them in professional civil service jobs with an emergency preparedness component – will be spending hours of time making decisions about how the money would best be spent.
That’s a HUGE investment of time, salaries and expertise. Is that investment something our current Board of Supervisors – or a future Board – is likely to just ignore? The recommendations of city and town managers, fire agencies, law enforcement, and the County’s own OES staff?
To me, the involvement of the TACs is one of the biggest safeguards of all. These are experts in their fields who would not appreciate being betrayed and having their time wasted. They would not be silent.
Dozens of Firewise Communities will be watching the money, too. We’ve been working our butts off for years in our own neighborhoods to clear vegetation and improve our evacuation routes. A sustainable, long-term source of locally-controlled funds would be a dream come true, making it possible for the County to find creative ways to partner with both Firewise Communities and individual residents who can’t clear their properties without help.
There’s no way we’d let Supervisors off the hook on their promises.
THIRD: Measure V has a 10-year sunset clause. If Supervisors ignore the TACs’ recommendations, there will be multiple election cycles to vote them out. But let’s remember, Supervisors typically like to get re-elected, and that won’t happen if they betray many thousands of voters on this issue. Also, most small-town politicians usually want to leave a legacy of honorable public service, rather than a reputation of having lied to their friends and neighbors.
FINALLY: Supervisors are people who live here, too, just as concerned as YOU are that their houses don’t burn down. I can hear them now: “Funding that we can control locally and count on over a long period to help prevent wildfire? Hey, let’s do it.”
Vote YES on Measure V, then watch the money do its job.
Susan Rogers is a 22-year resident of Grass Valley and has been active in the all-volunteer Nevada Coalition of Firewise Communities since 2017.