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Lack of funding: How ballot measures can fill in the gaps for local fire departments

Ballot measures give communities the opportunity to provide additional funding fire departments need for staffing, equipment and other areas


Using ballot measures, communities have the opportunity to provide additional funding needed for fire departments to address their staffing, equipment and other funding needs.

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Content provided by Firefighters & EMS Fund

By Jane Porter
Executive Director

Budgets for fire and emergency services are set by state and local lawmakers and officials. So, when we see the lack of funding for these services, we look to these government representatives to address the issue. But budgets only go so far and sadly fire budgets often come up short.

This is where voters come in. Using ballot measures, our communities have the opportunity to provide additional funding needed for fire departments to address their staffing, equipment and other funding needs.

Understanding the ballot measure process

So, what is a ballot measure? A ballot measure is “a law, issue, or question that appears on a statewide or local ballot for voters of that jurisdiction to decide.” Ballot measures are most often found during primary or general elections, but sometimes special elections can be called to vote on a single issue. The three major expenses that fire-related ballot measures usually ask voters to fund are staffing, equipment and facilities. Residents are often asked to pay for these necessities through levies on property taxes or the purchasing of municipal bonds.

The concept of a ballot measure is simple but spreading awareness and getting support from voters can be complicated. Often, city councils or district officials will need to vote on approving a ballot measure before residents are able to vote on the proposal. Getting to that stage requires strategic planning and effective communication from local fire agencies hoping to make their case to the public.

Ultimately, ballot measures are an easy way for residents to support the fire and other emergency operations which keep their communities safe. Effective ballot measures communicate the needs of the department (and the community) clearly. The most direct way for voters to be sure their local fire services are getting the resources needed is to support these measures when they come around at the ballot box!

How voters respond to ballot measures

Though fire and EMS issues are largely bipartisan, those who most often support measures to fund local fire departments are low propensity, pro-tax and spend individuals. Low propensity means these are voters who are not often engaged in the political process. Those that oppose these measures tend to have very few exceptions when supporting the creation of new funding mechanisms by way of taxation, no matter the value added to their communities.

Engaging low-propensity voters can be beneficial to more than just the issue at hand. Candidates on the ballot who share the same values as the pro-fire/EMS voters that are driven to the polls also benefit from the increased turnout.

In Firefighters & EMS Fund’s 2020 Referendum Report, the data showed that once the ballot measures were approved for a vote, the public generally responded with support at the ballot box. Around 72% of random ballot measures we examined passed in 2020, providing millions of dollars for local fire services.

In 2022, there were once again many local ballot measures and levies up for vote in the midterm elections, with mixed results in which measures passed and failed. In Arizona,

Proposition 310 asked voters to approve a small increase in sales tax effective over 20 years to help fund fire services state-wide. A “yes” vote meant: “the effect of establishing a Fire District Safety Fund; increasing the Transaction Privilege (Sales) and Use Tax by one tenth of one percent from January 1, 2023, through December 31, 2042, to pay for the Fund; and distributing monies from the Fund to fire districts on a monthly basis.” While the vote was close, just under 52% of voters voted against the measure, and it ultimately failed.

In California, proposition 30 also failed, which asked voters to raise income tax levels on salaries over $2 million by 1.75% that would in part go towards wildfire suppression and prevention programs. But there was a catch to this proposition: the wildfire related programs were attached to electric vehicle and electric vehicle infrastructure subsidies. From a fire perspective, the failure of this measure is likely attributed to its’ inclusion along with other green subsidies, which Governor Gavin Newsom surprisingly called “corporate welfare above the fiscal welfare of our entire state.” A 59% majority of the electorate voted against the measure.

Other referendums and ballot measures had more success, including more local propositions. In Salem, Oregon, measure 24-474 asked voters to approve funding that would go towards several public services, including fire. The measure seeks approval to issue general obligation bonds to finance capital costs of projects, including the replacement of 17 engines and three ladder trucks, replacing of rescue tools like the “jaws of life” and defibrillators, two medic units, four battalion vehicles and other vehicles for needs specific to heavy rescue, medium rescue, airfield rescue and firefighting, air support, and wildland grass fire. The measure passed with over 65% support from voters.

With funding continuing to be a cause of concern for local fire services all over the country, ballot measures are often a successful way to help fill in the gaps of current budgets and provide new and much needed resources to departments. As an industry, we need to keep working towards educating and advocating for our first responders to have the support and resources they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.

Does your local fire department need help getting support for their ballot measure? This Fall, Firefighters and EMS Fund is proud to have supported voter turnout in four different cities around the U.S. The turnout we drove gave a boost to ballot measures and politicians who supported fire and EMS policies in Strongsville, Ohio; Marion, Ohio; Oak Harbor, Washington; and Oswego, Illinois. Three out of four measures we supported passed.

Firefighters & EMS Fund can help you get the funding you need to effectively serve your community. Reach out to us at for more information.