In last week’s column I explained that three Supervisors, Ted Williams, Mo Mulheren, and Glenn McGourty, are planning to place a sales tax measure on the November ballot. The stated purpose of their proposed sales tax is to provide funding for local fire departments and a resurrected county water agency.
To their credit and recognizing that County citizens are enduring tough economic times, Supes John Haschak and Dan Gjerde are opposed to their colleagues’ misguided and ill-advised proposal.
There is absolutely no question that local fire departments, especially in the area of providing life-saving ambulance services, must receive additional funding, as it is a past, present and ongoing top priority. No argument there.
Keep in mind though that each town’s Friends of the Library groups have planned since 2019 to place a sales tax measure on the November ballot, a move that the Supervisors were not only aware of but tacitly encouraged. As pointed out in an editorial by the Ukiah Daily Journal this past Sunday, “A proposal pitting libraries against fire services is not fair and any ballot with two tax measures on it will likely see voters saying no to both.”
Also, as I’ve informed you previously, I’ve been serving on a steering committee that’s been dealing with the re-establishment of a county water agency, but I do not support funding an agency that has no defined organizational structure and purpose. It is currently an unfinished work-in-progress. Succinctly stated, the proposed sales tax measure is both premature and bereft of any broad-based public support at this time.
Far and wide the reception from the public is they don’t trust the Supervisors with this unguided missile of a sales tax. I’m also hearing that the cities of Fort Bragg and Willits are not on-board with the proposal.
This week, Willits Mayor Saprina Rodriguez sent the Supervisors an email broadly outlining all of the many reasons why the tax proposal is an idea whose time has not come.
I couldn’t agree more with Mayor Rodriguez if I’d written the letter myself.
Here’s her analysis on the proposed tax measure and advice to the Supervisors.
I didn’t respond late Thursday night to the tax proposal information because I wanted to digest the information Saturday and Sunday and talk to constituents about what they would support. I heard an overwhelming “No” for several reasons.
#1 The first phrase of the tax measure says, “Measure __ Sales Tax is unrestricted general fund revenue, by this resolution, the County intends to use these revenues for fire protection and water resiliency projects.”
The Public does not like unrestricted. “Intends” means little to constituents as Supervisors change with time. An advisory Board is meaningless if they have no real power. The County has a history of forming advisory Boards that have expressed the feeling they have no true value. They appear to be more of a formality. Also in that phrase it states, “essential services”. To most people this means: whatever the Supervisors deem important.
#2 The Supervisors made a promise to the library. An additional sales tax puts the library tax at risk. You can say that they are not competing, but it’s not true. The reality is that voters may be completely turned off by more taxes during a difficult economic time. Is now really the best time to tax people further or offer relief?
#3 The PEOPLE put forth signatures to put the library tax on the ballot. THE PEOPLE did not submit signatures for this proposed tax. This was derived from government.
#4 When was the needs assessment performed to decide what funding level was needed for any of these ideas? My constituents feel the idea of throwing “Fire Funds” in an unrestricted ballot measure is a way of preying on their fears. We have heard no logical argument presented relevant to the needs and shortfall of EACH Fire Department. For example, which local communities have already invested in their fire departments with a special tax? How much tax? Any Fire district would be happy to get more tax money, but when is too much taxes too much? We want a comprehensive plan of what the money would be spent on and know that all districts are already contributing in similar ways to support their local fire departments,
#5 My constituents don’t buy into the water theory. The City of Willits residents are already paying a high cost for water infrastructure. We made the investment and are paying for it. Now you want us to pay again to help others who are unwilling or planned poorly? Why should we all pay for Potter Valley water when those living there pay so little for the water they currently use? Check out the water rates. Maybe the first step should be to raise rates there. There was mention of storage capacity in Willits. We believe this was thrown in to include us. We have already allocated funds for another water storage tank. We are not fooled into thinking this funding is really aimed at helping our community. We want to be good neighbors but we want our neighbors to pay their fair share first, then we can all contribute a second round.
#6 What’s in it for the County? Will part of these funds be used to subsidize current salaries as they take on additional administrative duties and thus reduce the burden on the general fund? Many are suspicious of Politics at play here for a special group. Why are Supervisors taking on this mountain at a time when they should be focused on bigger budgetary issues? Some don’t understand why the County Supervisors are pushing an issue that has so little support.
These are just a few of the arguments I and others have heard.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, firstname.lastname@example.org, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)