Inverness group asks IPUD to take lead on tax proposal

03/03/2021

The debate over whether a parcel tax in Inverness is the best way to prepare for drought and wildfire simmered down last week. The Inverness Foundation, which floated the idea of a tax to the community in January, stepped back, saying the Inverness Public Utility District should take the lead. The Inverness Foundation had surveyed voters on their interest in a parcel tax, listing a series of specific fire and water projects. One hundred and ninety-five people responded, or 36 percent of voters, and 79 percent favored a 20-cent per square foot structure tax. Fifty-three percent of respondents favored a higher, 30-cent tax. The tax was intended to generate funds for hazardous fuel removal projects on private property and nearby state and federal lands; it also hoped to cover the cost of IPUD infrastructure improvements to mitigate leaks and improve storage capacity. The foundation envisioned that the district would manage the funds. Despite the positive survey results, Inverness Foundation board members agreed at a public meeting last Tuesday to forgo pursuing the measure in response to public pushback, saying many people have said they prefer that IPUD take the lead. “Frankly, I would like to move to defer action on doing our own initiative here, and ask the Inverness Public Utility District to consider the results of this survey, both in terms of support of a parcel tax to gain money for these purposes and recognizing their interest in all of these programs,” said Jerry Meral, the board member who originated the idea. Should IPUD, a public agency, sponsor a parcel tax measure, the tax would need a two-thirds majority to pass. By contrast, an Inverness Association-sponsored measure would need only a simple majority. Mr. Meral said the survey indicated that an IPUD tax could pass. Last Wednesday was the first time the utility district’s board discussed the idea publicly. Jim Fox, the fire chief and water superintendent, and Wade Holland, a longtime district employee, expressed a series of concerns about the specific measures developed by the foundation. Many of the infrastructure improvements and fire initiatives—conducted in tandem with the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority—were already underway, they said. They described three principal concerns about taking over the responsibilities listed in the foundation’s proposal: the overhead cost of administering the new programs; the fact that the volunteer fire department has jurisdiction only over structure fires, not wildland fires; and laws prohibiting public agencies from making a gift of public funds to private individuals. IPUD board members decided to return to the topic next month. “My personal view is that this is not something we should disregard and pretend does not exist,” board president Ken Emanuels said. “There is a lot of concern about fire safety as well as water conservation. And a number of these issues Jim [Fox] raised are just uncertainties—legal issues that we need to get a good briefing on [to know] what we can and cannot do.” Mr. Fox responded that the tax proposal touched on issues that the district is already working on. “It’s just that they have rolled these all up into one big package that didn’t separate out a lot of wishful thinking from things we are concerned with and have been concerned with,” he said.