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story.lead_photo.caption California Rural Fire Protection District's volunteer firefighters are shown. In the back row, from left, are Bobby Borts, John Kilmer, Eric Miller, Anthony Borts, Chris Roney, Josh Foxworthy, Wayne Hagemeyer, Ken Knipker, Ernie Fast Jr. In the front row, from left, are Derrick Werdehauser, Rick Worthey, Jarrett Hatch, Weston Borts, and Bryant Carpenter. (Submitted photo)

Though it failed to pass in the June 2 municipal election, the California Rural Fire District still hopes to aim for a future tax increase to help bolster a tight budget.

The 60-cent increase to the CRFD's tax levy was rejected with 51.13 percent of the vote — just 16 of the 708 votes cast were the difference between its passage. If approved, the increase tax levy would have lifted the district's budget from about $100,000 to about $400,000 annually, helping to replace outdated equipment and boost general operating revenue. This would have been the first tax increase since the fire district's founding in 1998.

CRFD chief Shawn Merrill said despite the hit, the district isn't giving up.

Merrill said the district plans to move forward with setting up some public meetings, and hopes to go door-to-door again to get further input from the public, since these efforts were previously halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Merrill said from this public input, the district hopes to gauge whether the increase it was asking for was perhaps too high, and answer any questions that were left unanswered earlier this year. Merrill said with how slim the margin was between the ballot measure's passage and failure, this sort of campaign could have easily made up the difference earlier this month.

"Our thinking was, with us not being able to get a lot of the information out like we wanted to, that probably would've made up the 16 votes and then some," Merrill said. "We want to see if (voters) think it'd be better to lower (the tax increase) a little bit. We still have to weigh what we need, because we don't want to have to keep doing it, since it costs so much to get on the ballot."

Merrill said it cost $10,000 to appear on the ballot in the June election, so any future ballot appearances would come with a price tag attached, as well.

As for when voters might expect to see another tax increase on a future ballot, Merrill said the remaining elections in 2020 probably won't see another stab at such a ballot measure. There likely wouldn't have been enough time to circulate information about the ballot measure in time for the upcoming August election, even without considering any deadlines involved with the process of getting something on the ballot, and if approved in the November election, the CRFD wouldn't start receiving money until a year later, Merrill said.

With this in mind, Merrill said the earliest election that would make sense for another ballot appearance would be in April 2021, since the CRFD could immediately start receiving money. He said this would also give the district ample time to disseminate information.

The hope in the meantime, Merrill said, is the CRFD can keep going as it has been. Merrill said the district really wants to avoid shutting down any stations or being forced to take any other drastic measures.

"Hopefully, we can keep going the way we are, as long as the trucks don't break down or anything major that takes a lot of the budget," Merrill said. "If we can keep everything running til then, and get by."

Merrill said anyone who has questions about the CRFD tax levy increase should keep an eye out for information about upcoming public meetings.

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