Residents overwhelmingly reject tax to fund Branciforte Fire Protection District; station set to close
Residents voted against a levy that would have raised an additional $1 million per year to double the staff at the Branciforte Fire Protection District and keep its only station open. The Local Agency Formation Commission of Santa Cruz County will vote Aug. 2 to finalize the consolidation of Branciforte’s staff with the Scotts Valley Fire Protection District.
Residents throughout the 9-square-mile district around Branciforte Drive and Granite Creek Road have resoundingly rejected a tax that would have raised an additional $1 million per year for the Branciforte Fire Protection District and doubled its current staff. As a result, the area’s only fire station will cease operation.
Ballots were mailed to the owners of 745 parcels in the area. Santa Cruz County Clerk Tricia Webber and some of her office staff counted the votes in person Thursday evening. Out of 434 ballots returned, 379 votes were against the measure, about 87%, while just 53 were in favor. Two ballots were unmarked.
The ballots were weighted based on how many structures sit on a parcel, so a ballot corresponding to a parcel with multiple structures holds a greater share of the vote than a ballot representing an empty lot. When factoring the weighted results into the raw numbers, the “no” votes finished with a weighted score of 875,554.23, and the “yes” votes finished with 103,393.05.
Had the measure passed, the tax would have cost property owners anywhere from $200 and $12,000 per year — a main point of contention among residents.
Richard Landon, a former member of the Branciforte Fire Protection District board of directors, called the move “a total money grab” and argued that the special assessment tax is an overreach.
“Any local agenda — fire, water, whatever they want to come up with — can come up with a special assessment,” he said. “It’s very tricky.”
Clement Shields, who lives on Granite Creek Road, felt that the differing amounts each owner would be subject to was confusing and concerning.
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“I don’t see any clear patterns, and this is a pretty huge amount,” he said. “It would double our entire tax payments.”
The fire station along Branciforte Drive has struggled to stay open for years, as it could afford only an interim chief and two captains as its full-time staff. Volunteer numbers have dropped, too, falling from 41 in 2013 to just nine now. Calls often require assistance from other stations.
The lack of staff and resources are the main reasons that the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) of Santa Cruz County is seeking to consolidate Branciforte into the Scotts Valley Fire Protection District. LAFCO’s commissioners will vote on Aug. 2 to finalize that consolidation.
Interim fire chief Nate Lackey said moving the station’s operations to Scotts Valley will not negatively affect response times to the area much.
“Right now, our budget allows for one person to be on duty a day, and then we hope we get volunteers,” he said. “And it’s not safe to run a call by yourself.”
Lackey added that because the station does not have a paramedic, consolidating with Scotts Valley will provide the Branciforte region with that vital service.
Though the Branciforte fire station will shut down, Joe Serrano, a senior analyst for LAFCO, previously told Lookout that the Scotts Valley Fire Protection District has agreed to keep the station ready for emergencies, community gatherings or for full-time use should enough funding come through to fully staff it in the future.
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