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The Regional Fire Protection Committee, a group led by San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and county Supervisor Ron Roberts, voted Friday to form a subcommittee to study the feasibility of a countywide ballot measure to pay for increased fire protection measures.

The subcommittee, made up of Roberts, Sanders, San Diego Fire Department Chief Tracy Jarman and Carlsbad Fire Chief Kevin Crawford, will study the proposal for two weeks before presenting to the full committee.

It’s the first whiff of a new revenue source to pay for fire protection since two efforts in 2004 to raise the city of San Diego’s transient occupancy tax failed to pass muster with the voters.

The committee heard two reports during the course of a two-hour meeting this afternoon that featured some testy exchanges between Roberts, Supervisor Dianne Jacob and other members of the committee. One report outlined the findings of the committee over the last few months. Another looked specifically at the ballot measure idea.

The lion’s share of the discussion was devoted to the ballot measure.

The board debated whether November 2008, the next time a measure could be placed on the ballot, is the best time to ask residents for more contributions in taxes. Committee members said there are already several measures, both local and statewide being put before county voters to ask them to pay higher taxes, and noted that a struggling economy could put a damper on any attempt to eke out tax money from residents.

And the committee members debated whether they will have enough time to put together an effective ballot measure before the November election.

“I believe that we have a one-time opportunity to go to the ballot and my biggest fear is if we cannot do it right, and we rush to the ballot in November, and we fail, we’ve lost that opportunity,” said Jacob.

The subcommittee will meet over the next two weeks and will seek input from the San Diego County Fire Chief’s Association and the Fire Districts Association of California.

Roberts said the committee owes a duty to county residents.

“Most of the people in this region know we’ve lost more than 4,000 houses over the last few years and I think they’re expecting that their elected officials are going to do something significant in response to that,” he said.

The committee also discussed the possibility of holding a special election for a ballot measure to pay for fire services or simply waiting until the next local elections in 2010 to float the idea.

WILL CARLESS

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