The totalitarian society described by George Orwell in his novel “1984” indoctrinated all citizens of the fictional Oceania to believe nonsense statements like the mantra, “War is peace, Slavery is freedom, Ignorance is strength.”
Here’s another nonsense statement, this one for the taxpayers of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District: “You can trust district officials to be open and honest with you.”
That’s the main takeaway from a recent rending of the flesh by current and former officials of the district in an attempt to set the record straight on the selling and implementation of an $850,000 tax increase approved by voters in March 2012.
This public confession was prompted by a meeting with a citizens oversight committee chaired by Fred Buhler, a former district director. The Union’s report didn’t say who formed the committee and why, but if it was a P.R. ploy to resusitate the district’s image it failed.
What the current and former officials had to say was quite extraordinary:
–Then Chief Tim Fike, who left the district under a cloud but with a lovely $55,000 parting gift, told the public that none of the tax increase would go to firefighter salaries.
What Fike didn’t say was that the district made an agreement with the firefighters union five months before the election to revisit previous wage concessions if the measure passed. Sure enough, the board voted eight months after the election to restore $60,000 in pay step increases and holiday stipends.
–District officials talked a lot about a supposed 7 percent pay cut taken by firefighters before the tax vote, their sacrifice in tough times. What they didn’t bother to tell taxpayers was that the cut was in step increases and overtime, not baseline salaries.
–It was pointed out at the confessional that benefits and salaries account for about 75 percent of the district’s $5 million budget, but tax proponents stressed the need for money to keep two stations open around the clock, and maintain and purchase new equipment.
Still, former board member Bob Rhodes doesn’t think there was any intention to mislead.
“I think the district did a tremendous job of trying to make the people aware, to communicate,” Rhodes said, apparently without irony. “My sense was never that things were being untruthful. My sense is that they were trying to paint a clear picture and not oversell.”
But wait, Rhodes had more to say: “I can understand and appreciate that not everybody in the general public feels that way, but I honestly don’t think the general public has a clue about fire service.”
No, you’re the one who’s clueless.