Supes move county sales tax hike proposal forward

Lassen County’s Board of Supervisors moved the Lassen County Public Safety Supplemental Transactions and Use Tax Ordinance that, if approved by county voters, would add a one-cent sale tax charge to purchases made in the unincorporated areas of the county, matching the recent sales tax increase approved by the voters in the city of Susanville. If approved, the sales tax increase would generate $1.5 million a year earmarked for law enforcement use only.

Lassen County District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher.

At its Tuesday, June 18, meeting, the supervisors waived the first reading of the ordinance and approved it by a 4-1 vote. Chairman and District 4 Supervisor Aaron Albaugh cast the lone nay vote.

If adopted at the supervisors’ July 9, meeting, the sales tax increase question would come before the voters for their approval on the November ballot. Because the special tax is designated to be used for public safety, it will require a 2/3 vote in order to be enacted. Voters in the city will be able to vote on the ordinance even though it will not affect the sales tax charged within the city limits, only the unincorporated areas of the county. Lassen County District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher proposed the tax increase at a recent supervisors’ meeting.

According to the ordinance included with the agenda, “All proceeds of this special tax distributed to the county of Lassen shall be deposited into a special fund and used exclusively to fund projects and purposes described in the expenditure plan … Public safety, for purposes of this expenditure plan, are 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, their wages, salaries, benefits, training and equipment; for personnel; and public safety communications … All proceeds of this special tax shall, upon receipt from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, be deposited by the County Auditor into a fund created exclusively for this purpose. The County Auditor shall also prepare and make available for inspection an annual report pursuant to Government Code section 50075.3.”

Gallagher, who spent 28 years in law enforcement, offered an emotional appeal for the ordinance.

“Law enforcement is not getting any easier today,” Gallagher said, “and it’s not getting any less expensive. Grants that we used to be able to see and get on a regular basis aren’t happening. So what doesn’t that mean? That means people in this county need to help. There are a lot of people who like to complain about how little law enforcement does or how little code enforcement does. It’s because we don’t have the people. This is one way we’re going to be able to get the people. I think this is probably the only time we’re going to have a chance at this … The city already has this tax. All we’re doing is equaling the tax across the county to be the same. I can’t see a reason why anybody in the city would vote no on this tax. I think this should be across the board in the city a vote yes. They already pay it. They’re already giving it to the Susanville Police Department … and so now to even this out so we get the same amount of tax to be used for law enforcement only should be an automatic thing … Law enforcement needs this at this time. There is no other general fund money coming from the federal government these days to do law enforcement. Why? Because they don’t like law enforcement right now.”

Gallagher said the need is great — for example, the sheriff’s department doesn’t have computers in its cars and other state-of-the-art tools.

“We are so far behind in this county in terms of law enforcement, tht it’s going to take a lot to get caught up,a” Gallagher said. “And how do we get caught up? We get caught up through funding … If our citizens are truly for having the kind of lifestyle we have, we want to have here in Lassen County, you should be voting yes for this measure …So, come on, let’s do this. Let’s get this passed. Let’s make this happen and get these guys a little bit more money to do their job.

District 2 Supervisor Gary Bridges said, he was against taxes, too, but he’s for the safety of the children and seniors.

“If we don’t have a safe county we can put all the funds we want to into economic development, and if it’s not safe to come to Lassen County, they’re not going to vacation here, they’re not going to go to the fairgrounds. There are a lot of things they won’t do,” Bridges said. “Let’s make this happen. I don’t like taxes. I never did, but this is for you, your family, your neighbors and safety for all.”

District 5 Supervisor Jason Ingram said he also doesn’t like taxes, but several south county deputies have gone to work in Truckee because the pay is better.

He said many of the deputies are homegrown, and “They don’t work here for the money. They work here because they love this community … We have to do something to retain our deputies. Period.”

District 3 Supervisor Tom Neeley said he’s gotten a lot of feedback on the tax, and many don’t want it, but, “We have to do something to support the sheriff’s department. They have a tough job and the state of California has taken it upon themselves to dump the prisons and leave it up to the counties to fend for themselves … With this vote we’re not taking the rights out of the voters’ hands. They’re going to tell us how they feel.”

Public hearing
During the public hearing on the ordinance, Janesville resident Susan Summerville said she opposed the tax increase because she opposes all tax increases.

“I think government is too big,” she said, adding she believes tax increases do not solve the problems. “I appreciate the good intent, though.”

Lassen County Sheriff John McGarva also commented at the public hearing.

“I can only speak to the need public safety does have to try and increase funding coming in,” McGarva said. “I’ve addressed some vacancy issues in the past here. Those have not gotten any better. Hiring has not gotten any easier. Recruitment and retention has become difficult. I’m losing people to competing agencies that quite frankly are better funded and better paid. The jail, being the worst part where I’m sitting on 19 out of 24 vacancies for correctional deputies. I’m missing two technicians out of five and a sergeant — all of them left for better opportunities. It’s not that they didn’t like working for the county and working for the sheriff’s office, some of them, they just flat couldn’t afford to stay. It’s unfortunate because we have a lot of great things to offer in this county … Luckily the people I do have want to be here for the community … A lot of my wages are in the low $20 per hour, and I’m competing against people I never thought I’d have to compete with — fast food restaurants for personnel … No one’s applying. They’re seeing other opportunities, and they’re going that direction.”

Supervisor-elect Mike Scanlan said he was in favor of the ordinance.