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Newcastle residents receive Measure B ballots

Could response times go up if Measure B fails?
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Ballots for Measure B started arriving in the mailboxes of Newcastle residents’ home Tuesday. Local fire officials say without a two-thirds ‘yes’ vote on a parcel tax to keep the Newcastle Fire District in operation, residents could be looking at longer emergency response times. Some Newcastle residents say voting ‘yes’ on Measure B will also keep homeowner’s insurance premiums down and keep a vital service local. Other locals say they still have questions about the $146.46 annual special tax that haven’t been answered. One portion of Measure B states that the tax Newcastle Fire Protection board can vote to raise the tax annually based upon changes in the San Francisco Bay Area Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 3 percent, or whichever is less. As it stands, the Newcastle Fire Station has been declared condemned and firemen are staying in a recreational vehicle in the meantime. A decision has to be made by voters by March 6, which is close to the deadline that firemen will be required to leave the temporary command post. If Measure B passes, the special tax will be used to build a fire station and pay Newcastle firemen, who currently make $8.50 per hour, a higher wage and possibly health benefits. In 2011, there were a total of 362 calls that the Newcastle Fire Protection Agency responded to and residents could expect an average wait time of 6 minutes and 42 seconds, according to Michael Leydon, a long-time Newcastle resident and volunteer campaign manager for Measure B. Brad Harris, unit chief for Cal Fire Nevada, Yuba and Placer counties and fire warden for Placer County said the elimination of any one engine company impacts response times at that site, as well as others served throughout the area. “It’s a compounding issue. The loss of any one engine company in the system currently in place right now is going to adversely affect all of them,” Harris said. “Over the last several years as the economy started to decline we have reduced our budgets in every area we could. We cut fat and muscle and now we are down to the bone. This is an opportunity for the citizens to decide what level of service they want.” Harris said if Newcastle ceases to have a fire district various agencies, including Cal Fire in North Auburn/Ophir, Penryn and the South Placer Fire Protection District, would serve the community. He said rural areas, like Newcastle and Auburn, are already low on resources. Especially in medical emergencies, Harris said an extra few minutes can make a big difference for first-responders. “What we always look at in our response times are that first 6 minutes,” Harris said. After that, the brain starts to lose critical function, he said. The North Auburn/Ophir area is also having a similar election in June, where voters will decide whether to increase taxes for fire protection or lose some services. Will insurance rates go up if tax doesn’t pass? Mark Ridens, an insurance agent and owner of Farmer’s Insurance in Newcastle, said it is possible for homeowner premiums to go up without a nearby fire station. “As a general rule rating wise it is all done by distance that your house is from a fire hydrant or distance from a manned fire house. This is very general,” Ridens said. “Depending on where you live in relation to this fire station here, it could put you too far from a manned fire station. It is possible, but that is very general speaking.” Ridens said for some residents that could even mean they are closer to a station in South Auburn, than a station in Newcastle. Erica Moore, a Newcastle resident, said after talking to her insurance agent she is certain Measure B is a better value. She said a modern fire station, a livable wage for local firemen and no increase on her property insurance, makes it worth the tax “Paying more for the parcel tax in my specific example will be a lot less expensive for me than paying the increase on property insurance,” Moore said. Moore said her rate would increase $1,344 per year if the station is closed. Residents say questions linger Mike Weber, a Newcastle resident and current president of the Newcastle Sanitary District, said while he is in favor of Measure B, he has serious concerns about what will happen to the condemned firehouse. “It is condemned and they don’t have the money to repair it. Their hope is someone will come along and want to buy it and refurbish it,” Weber said. “My concern is it’s just going to continue to deteriorate and the fire district is just going to let it sit.” Weber said he has also heard from neighbors and friends that they have questions that are not being answered. “I don’t believe that they have done a really good job in providing all the information people need to feel comfortable with voting,” Weber said. “I just got my ballot today, so hopefully they will provide a public forum to answer questions people have.” Ed Sander lives across the street from the condemned fire house and said, while he is for Measure B, the building has spots that are an eyesore. “I am in support of it because I feel we need a fire station and a new building in Newcastle. I live right across the street from the current one and I have seen it deteriorate over the past 25 years and I hate seeing those firemen sleeping in a trailer,” Sander said. “It has small portions of it which are an eye soar. One side has a big crack on it on the stucco part. The wood is sort of rotted and they have had to brace that up on a roll up door.” He said he is most concerned that residents will lose quick medical responses if the fire district is eliminated. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com. ______________________________________________________ Want to learn more about Measure B? Michael Leydon, volunteer campaign manager for Measure B, said Newcastle residents who have questions about Measure B can attend the Newcastle Fire Protection District Board meeting Thursday night, at 6 p.m. at the Castle City Mobile Home Park, or contact him with any questions at 916-847-4632 or mleydon@sbcglobal.net. Ballots must be received, not postmarked, by the Placer County Office of Elections at 8 p.m. on March 6.