Flame game

Registered voters in the city of Sparks can vote for mayor, councilfolk and a municipal court judge on or before June 3. For more info, visit www.co.washoe.nv.us /voters.
You’d think, as a hemorrhaging-heart lib’rel, I’ve never met a tax I didn’t like.

Yes, I believe businesses should pitch in more than they do. But taxes on necessities of modern-life stuff like homes, cars and food make me nervous. Talk of adding $50 a year to my Sparks home-owning property tax bill doesn’t excite me. And I can imagine Renoites are shaking their heads over the Reno City Council’s 2 percent property tax increase there.

So today I thought I’d try arguing against raising property taxes in Sparks to meet the needs of the Fire Department. The question of a tax override to fund fire services is on the Sparks ballot on June 3. (It’s the last aberrant spring election. The next Sparks election will be held during other local, state and national elections.)

My family’s experience with the Sparks Fire Department, based on a recent 911 call in east Sparks, has been positive. A fire truck with EMTs beat REMSA to the scene by about two minutes—and, in a life-and-death situation, that’s a long time.

The average fire truck response time for most of Sparks is about six minutes.

Had we bought a house out in Spanish Springs, we’d not have received help so fast. It takes about nine or 10 minutes to get from the nearest fire station on Disc Drive to the northeast area of Sparks. Change is in the works, though, with Fire Station No. 5 being built in Wingfield Springs in a building purchased by developer fees.

Developer fees are also paying for the station’s design, remodeling and construction. Still, as the city of Sparks shifts resources around to outfit and staff the new station, resources may be spread too thin.

Wait. I’m supposed to be against raising taxes. Let’s try again.

(Deep breath. Reconfiguring brain into anti-tax stance now.)

By asking residents to approve the 2003 Fire Protection Special Elective Tax, the city of Sparks is demonstrating a careless attitude toward these troubled times.

The city would supposedly use the money to hire and train 12 new, entry-level firefighters in January 2004. Firefighters from the more experienced ranks would be promoted to fill Station No. 5. Since we already have trained firefighters ready to staff Station 5, it seems silly to hire new firefighters. Maybe firefighters should take a pay cut to pick up the slack. Or stop wasting so darn much water.

The Sparks Fire Department’s budget has gone up by 15 percent since 1999. The calls for service in northeast Sparks have only gone up by 380 percent.

Besides that, fire trucks don’t have to respond to every single call they get. Of the 5,606 calls for help in 2001, only about 5 percent were for structural fires. Let REMSA handle everything else. After all, REMSA can bill people for its services. Hell, why not abandon the Fire Department altogether and let REMSA put out fires, too? Privatizing government services saves taxpayers a bunch. (What fun to think of someone who’s lost everything in a fire opening a REMSA bill for a few grand.)

In addition, Sparks leaders argue that if we don’t let Sparks raise property taxes closer to the property tax cap, then the county or the state will raise our tax for something they want, and we’ll be stiffed. How dumb it is for Sparks to raise property taxes just so that the county and state can’t.

While I actually agree with that last anti-tax argument, I’ll probably be voting to pay another $20 per $100,000 of assessed home value to keep the Fire Department strong.

Sparks voters have rejected tax override proposals three times in the 1990s. The last successful tax override was in 1987.

There are taxes I don’t like. But the city of Sparks shouldn’t get burned.