County ponders possible sales tax increase

Based upon a request from Lassen County District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher and others, on May 14, the supes directed staff to bring a sales tax ballot measure back to the board for consideration. If approved and moved forward, the ballot measure would appear on the November Presidential Election ballot.

Lassen County District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher.

County Administrative Officer Richard Egan told the board the county’s unincorporated area’s 7 ¼ percent sales tax rate is the lowest in the state, the incorporated area in the county is 8 ¼ percent and the city has added 1 percent to that.

Egan said the supes essentially have two decisions to make. First — would the proposed tax be charged in the unincorporated areas or the incorporated areas of the county. Regardless of that decision, Egan said the entire county would get to weigh in on the sales tax increase at the ballot box.

He said if the increased was approved for both the incorporated and unincorporated areas of the city, a 1 percent increase would generate about $1.4 million annually. The unincorporated area’s sale tax rate would increase to 8 ¼ percent and the incorporated area’s sale tax rate would increase to 9 ¼ percent.

Second, should the county assign the increase to be used for a specific purpose such as public safety, it would be a special tax that would require a super majority 2/3 vote for approval. A general tax approval would require just a simple majority. That increase could be used for any purpose.

Egan noted the voters rejected a county sales tax measure several years ago.

Gallagher said the last sale tax proposal was for a general tax, and he opposed that.

“I felt like, if we don’t guarantee to the voting public that this money is going to go to law enforcement, I didn’t think it had a chance to pass,” Gallagher said. “That’s kind of the way I feel today. I think if we bring it to the voters and tell them this is exactly what it’s going for — that could be all law enforcement, doesn’t have to be just the sheriff’s office … it will be the jail.”

Assistant Administrative Officer Tony Shaw, said the 70 percent of county voters rejected the county’s last sales tax increase proposal. He said most of the county’s sales tax revenue comes from auto sales and gas stations. He said time was of the essence to allow time to get the measure on the ballot.

“Today’s the day to tell us to do it if you want it,” Shaw said.

The matter will come back at a future board meeting, probably in early June.