Supes forward sales tax increase question to the voters

Should residents making purchases in the unincorporated areas of Lassen County pay an additional 1 cent in sales tax earmarked for public safety — equalizing the sales tax rate paid in the county with the rate already in place in the city? The tax is expected to generate about $1.5 million per year for the county.

At today’s Tuesday, June 9, meeting the Lassen County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to put the question on the November Presidential Election ballot for the voters to decide by a 4-1 vote. Board Chair Aaron Albaugh cast the lone nay vote. The board also approved the ballot measure itself by a 4-1 vote with Albaugh again casting the lone nay vote.

Because the sales tax increase is earmarked specifically for public safety, it is a special tax that requires a 2/3 vote for approval. And, because city residents are also county residents, those living in the city also have a say on the adoption of the new tax.

County Counsel introduced the item and suggested a error in the ballot question be corrected — a clarification that the tax increase would not be charged within the city of Susanville.

Lassen County District 5 Supervisor Jason Ingram asked county counsel for clarification. He wanted to know why city residents get to vote on this tax increase for the county when county residents did not get to vote on the city’s recently approved tax increase.

The answer is city residents also are county residents but county residents are not city residents.

According to the measure, public safety is defined as “Lassen County Sheriff, Fire, Lassen County Office of Emergency Services, Lassen County Probation, Lassen County District Attorney and Lassen County Code Enforcement services, including, but not limited to, the wages, salaries, benefits, training and equipment for personnel and public safety communications needs.”

District 3 Supervisor Tom Neely suggested there should be a formula to divide the money between the various groups for which the funds are intended, but District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher, the supervisor behind the proposal, said a formula would restrict the money from going to the public safety entity that needed it the most in any given year. He said one year the sheriff’s department might have a pressing need and the next it might be the district attorney’s office.

County Administrative Officer Richard Egan and county counsel explained the funds, if approved, would be allocated by the board of supervisors during the yearly budget process.

Ingram said he favored funding public safety, but he thought the 2/3 vote was a barrier, and he expects the aye vote by the voters will not be higher than 40 percent.

Lassen County Sheriff John McGarva said all the county agencies that will receive the funds experience staff shortages, and city employees are paid more than county employees. He said the city and the county are competing for the same employees, and the additional funding would make the county more competitive.

“Let the voters decide if they want to pay more for public safety,”  McGarva said.

“Public safety is in trouble,” Ingram said, “and I think the voters should decide.”

Gallagher said hopefully the voters will decide this is an opportunity to improve public safety in the county. He said there are 7,000 voters in the city and they have no reason to oppose the measure because they’re already paying an extra tax for public safety. If approved, the tax would be equal all across the county.

“The bad part is we can’t fix the state,” Gallagher said. “The good part is we can fix the county.”

Albaugh said he was voting no because he didn’t think it was going to pass and work on the item was just wasting a lot of staff time.

“People are going to get sore and hurt on this,” Albaugh said, “because their budgets are status quo and then all of a sudden they get hit with another million and a half added to it.”