Two measures that would have increased taxes in West County to fund schools and fire departments have failed, according to election results reported by Sonoma County Elections.
The counts showed the measures failed to reach the 67-percent threshold required to pass, despite both receiving simple majorities.
Measures A and B, which were endorsed by Chair of the Board of Supervisors Lynda Hopkins, received just over 55 percent and 60 percent respectively. 12,285 registered voters cast ballots for or against Measure A, with 12,822 voters casting ballots for Measure B.
Measure A would have established a $48 parcel tax on properties within the West Sonoma County Unified High School District. It would have replaced an expiring parcel tax of the same amount and joined a continuing parcel tax of $79 to require property owners within the high school district to pay $127 per year. The money would fund Analy, El Molino and Laguna High Schools, which soon face consolidation.
Proponents said that parcel tax was necessary to make up for decreased funding tied to decreased enrollment, as families continue to choose other areas to settle, leaving a smaller number of potential students in the area. While plans to consolidate the high schools are inevitable, proponents of Measure A said that the additional funding would have given the district time to better plan consolidation efforts.
In an effort to better fund emergency medical services along with other public programs in West County, Measure B would have raised the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) by 4 percent, had it passed.
Proponents of Measure B, which included Sonoma County first responders, said the tax was justified because emergency services located along the coast in the Bodega Bay Fire District are disproportionately impacted by the needs of tourists. By raising the taxes on tourists staying in hotels, Airbnb’s and other short-term vacation rentals in west Sonoma County, the proponents argued the impact would be offset.
Measure B was opposed by Airbnb hosts and hotel operators, who said it would negatively affect their businesses and tourism to the area.
In an interview with KSRO, Supervisor Hopkins blamed the failure of the measures on low voter turn-out and suggested that some voters may have been confused by vote-by-mail rules.
“One of the things that’s really surprising to me is just how low the voter turn-out was,” Hopkins told KSRO News Director Michelle Marque. According to Hopkins, parents and students have been reaching out to her office with concerns about what this means for consolidation, which could happen as soon as this fall.
“We are looking at the closure of our rural high schools,” Hopkins said. “I received quite a bit of feedback from parents, as well as some students.”
Hopkins said the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District, which serves coastal areas frequented by out-of-county visitors, will face a financial crisis because of the failure of Measure B.
“I will do whatever I can to work with them to avert that crisis, because we can’t afford to have fewer paramedics on the coast. In the summer, the visitorship has been increasing every single year. The demand for services is extraordinary, and we cannot sustain, quite frankly, a weakening of that safety net,” Hopkins said.
On March 5, the board of the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District held a special session to address the financial problems the department will continue to face and how that affects staffing.
Prior to holding a closed session, Assistant Chief Steve Herzberg addressed the board regarding the loss.
“Obviously it was a disappointment,” Herzberg said.
Heading into tourist season, the district, already short-staffed, will be down two paramedics.
Herzberg said due to the instability of the district’s finances, one of its paramedics recently left in favor of a job at the Santa Rosa Fire Department. Efforts to fill that position proved difficult, with only one applicant. Herzberg said the position will be frozen for the time being and no replacement will be sought.