Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Steele: The voters have a taxing question to consider

Governments at the county level are about the business of life. They provide the law enforcement that keeps us safe; roads to let us move; the special services that support veterans, seniors, animal control; and provide libraries and many other life quality needs. The very dollars that pass through the government continue to support businesses and families as well as sometimes helping them rebuild after a disaster or provide oversight for the process. Rural county governments define the society norms for community support, are a measure of caring and keep the local economy moving.

The large urban, suburban counties have fueled the state to the fifth largest economy in the world by the crush of their populations and strong economic enterprises. Rural counties survive through their natural resource attributes and quality of surroundings. A blissful difference.

Measure G on the June ballet authorizes the county to raise the general sales tax, 1.5 percent for 10 years in the unincorporated areas and develops an oversight committee and annual audits to keep track of the expenditures. The incorporated cities have already raised their taxes to the allowable limit and Measure G would match that level except the cities’ taxes are without a sunset clause. So why would cities and the county want to add extra income?

For the county, it’s a realization of significant shortfalls in the budget that support the services vital to the community. Lake County has always been frugal and balanced its budget according to the revenues supporting the General Fund. This fund is the area that the county can control as opposed to programs that the state controls, such as social services.

The income to the General Fund has declined because of a slow recession recovery, loss of homes and businesses due to six significant emergencies in three years, and a need to repair our roads above the meager support from the state. The short fall from recession incomes and unrecovered fire/flood losses begins at greater than 5 million and adds about one million per year increasing to $9 million total by 2022, even if we didn’t fix any roads. A road upgrade tax could easily begin at a one percent level by itself considering we are at the bottom of all counties in road condition index. This is one of the top complaint areas in my world and, even if the states’ new gas tax were not repealed, we would need more help.

By establishing the same level of sales tax as the cities, Measure G makes us all equal on the playing field of self-help during the budget shortfall. Being a self-help county puts us in a better position to ask for state and federal grants to improve infrastructure. They like people solving their own issues and of course paying the grant matching requirements.

In all, it’s about choosing between shrinking services while waiting for a recovery or doing what our two cities and 55 percent of other counties have done to keep pace with difficult times. It’s up to the voters.

Jim Steele is District 3 supervisor for Lake County, Calif.

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