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Tax advocates make push to ‘Protect Santee’

Friends of Santee Firefighters Association launched a new solution to the problem of not being able to meet national safety response time standards. On Feb. 20, Protect Santee, an initiative that proposes a small temporary tax to provide resources and firefighter personnel to meet national safety standards. The plan calls for first qualifying a ballot measure through a signature collection process of Santee voters. The Santee City Council would then be asked to place the Protect Santee measure on this year’s November ballot.

“All of us want what’s best for Santee, so how do we get there? We have a solution that will absolutely solve our emergency fire and medical service problems. This modest measure will not only help the city in the short-term, but it will ensure our fire department will keep pace with Santee’s growth. The residents of Santee deserve nothing less,” said Fire Captain Patrick Henry, a member of the Santee Firefighters Association.

Henry is a 15-year veteran Santee firefighter, born and raised in East County in El Cajon. His father was the fire chief in El Cajon, and his stepmother the city manager. Henry has a master’s degree in public administration. He said the initiative is a half-cent sales tax for 15 years.

“Because it is a citizen’s initiative, it will be a special tax. It will not go to the general fund. It is earmarked specifically for what is written on the ballot. It will have a citizen’s oversight committee that will monitor it. If the sales tax is greater than what they are projecting, they can make extra payments and dissolve it earlier than year 15.”

Over the next 20 years, the Santee Fire Department will be tasked with responding to up to 30,000 additional incidents per year and to protect a population that could increase by as much as 50 percent. Yet, there are no additional resources allocated to the fire department, which is already severely underfunded.

“The city has had these infrastructure problems for years,” he said. “For the past 20 years, the city has been trying to get more stations built, trying to be creative, and not putting the problem on the taxpayers.”

Henry said Fanita Ranch is still supposed to build a fire station, and since 2003, they have been waiting for that.

“Since then, our city continues to grow with infrastructure projects,” he said. “In 2012, we had $11 million in redevelopment funds from the state marked for a fire station, and the state stripped redevelopment funds overnight. Any city did not get their fire stations built with redevelopment funds struggled to get a station built after that.”

“The city entered a joint venture with the Sheriff’s department, and the county was going to build a joint fire station/sheriff station in Santee. They were going to foot the bill and the city was going to pay them back. The Sheriffs walked away from that overnight.”

Henry said as the city tried to find solutions, COVID hit.

“Now 2024, we have had two stations in Santee since 1964. The city has grown immensely, and we cannot get to the north and south end of our city in a four-minute response time, which is the national standard,” he said. “It is becoming a problem and our two stations, there is nowhere to expand. We have no more apparatus, no more beds. We are packed.”

Henry said staffing levels have remained the same since 2000 with 18 firefighters on duty in Santee. Today, there are 17, 24 years later.

“We do have staffing needs,” he said. “Santee is not a huge community, and the staffing needs are not huge. That can be easily fixed with a small number of staff increase,” he said. “Santee citizens are not getting the services they deserve. It is nobody’s fault. Sometimes these kinds of things just happen overtime.”

Henry said the city’s budget is about $1,000 per capita revenue, the lowest per capita revenue in any other comparable city in the county. He said the city does well with its budget without passing it on to the taxpayers.

“This initiative is not to balance the budget, to pad anyone’s salaries, it is an infrastructure need and a small staffing need,” he said. “The city hired AP Triton, LLC, a nationally recognized third-party agency, to do a year-long study on the coverage of our emergency responders’ responses and found what we already knew. We need a station in the north end, a station in the south end, and we need to increase the staffing by 9 to 12 full time positions.”

Henry said the fire chief took that information and created a long-term master plan that included a fire station on its existing property on the north end, a fire station on its existing Public Works yard on the south end of the city on land already owned, and rebuilding its headquarter stations, which was built in 1972, and never been remodeled. He said the report from AP Triton claimed it to be dilapidated.

“There is nobody that disagrees with that,” he said. “They just stopped putting money into it because it was drained. There is asbestos in the carpet, the tile, the walls, and the ceiling. We keep it clean but there is no easy fix.”

Henry said as a grassroots initiative, that firefighters will be going door to door to talk to citizens and collecting signatures to get this measure on the November ballot.

“We are going to be coming to them,” he said. “You are going to see the firefighters at the grocery stores. You are going to see firefighters knocking on doors. We are using this as part of the campaign. We are doing all the legwork ourselves. We will have a couple of signatures gatherers but will be minimal due to cost. And we want to make this genuine. With the conservative voters in Santee, sales tax is a bad word. I know exactly how hard this is going to be for us. The only way this is going to be successful is for us to be extremely genuine, knocking on people’s doors and having that conversation assuming that everyone is a no vote until they talk to you.”

The Protect Santee initiative is sponsored by the Santee Firefighters Association. More details about the campaign can be found at Additional materials, including reports, campaign assets, and presentations can be found at

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