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Scott Barnett, leader of San Diego’s one-man taxpayer band, TaxpayerAdvocate.org, says mayoral candidate Steve Francis’s plan to improve public safety would cost city residents as much as $315 million over 30 years.

Barnett said the number is based on his analysis of Francis’s “Vision for a 21st Century San Diego.” In it, Francis advocates issuing general obligation bonds for the construction of new fire stations. Barnett said he doesn’t approve or disapprove of the plan, saying only that it should be analyzed.

Francis’s campaign says Barnett, who has not endorsed anyone in the mayor’s race, is unfairly characterizing the plan. “Steve has not proposed any new taxes,” said Francis campaign consultant Charles Gallagher.

Here is the pertinent paragraph from Francis’ plan:

Fire protection districts can issue general obligation bonds to fund capital improvement projects, such as fire stations. A City of San Diego Fire Protection District could issue $150 million in general obligation bonds to finance the construction and land acquisition for 20 additional fire stations. Similar efforts in San Diego County have received strong support. In the fall of 2004, voters in Escondido approved issuing $84.3 million in bonds to finance the construction and land acquisition for new fire stations.

Barnett says debt service payments on the bond would range from $236 million to $289.5 million depending on its length. Here is more from a press release from Barnett’s organization, TaxpayersAdvocate.org:

Interest rates at the time of issuance would impact the total costs as well. San Diego property owners would pay from as little as $5.71 per $100,000 of assessed value to as much as $9.72.

Barnett also takes issue with what he calls a “parcel tax” in Francis’s plan that would cost taxpayers $26 million over 10 years. Here are the details on this proposal from Francis’ plan:

The San Diego Wildfire Prevention District would finance the costs related to wildfire suppression, preparedness and education services, and roving fire patrols to enhance code compliance. Those living within the district will have new fire protection accountability with annual district audits and online reports detailing the rates of successful inspections and property code compliance. Targeted to seven high-risk fire threat communities, a San Diego Wildfire Prevention District funded by a flat temporary parcel charge could raise more than $2.6 million each year for enhanced fire protection, for a total of ten years. Steve supports the opportunity for homeowners and property owners to be fully informed of the proposal, and directly vote on its potential implementation.

Again, Gallagher pointed out that the mayor has no authority to tax without the support of the voters.

“It requires a vote of the people, and that is the point Scott misses,” he said.

DAVID WASHBURN

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