County voters may be asked to vote on several different tax measures in the June and November elections.
The San Benito County Board of Supervisors this week began looking at tax ballot measures to fund regional road repairs, public safety, and administrative payrolls.
First one the list is cannabis: On Tuesday Feb. 20, supervisors directed staff to prepare options for a potential cannabis tax measure that could go before voters in the June 5 Primary Election.
In the months ahead, supervisors said they also will consider additional tax measures to place on the ballot in the Nov.6 General Election, including a 1 percent general sales tax and a potential transportation sales tax for road repair.
Options for a potential cannabis tax will be up for board consideration at a March 6 meeting, just a few days before the June primary election filing deadline on March 9.
According to county staff, the cannabis tax would apply to any pot businesses in the unincorporated area of San Benito County. Compare this to the City of Hollister, who negotiates taxes and fees in individual development agreements with each cannabis operation in city limits. The county cannabis tax would be across the board, but numbers have yet to be defined.
The Resource Management Agency is currently working on a draft cannabis business ordinance that is expected to go before the board in April. The board of supervisors previously approved a ban on any and all existing cannabis activity in the unincorporated area of the county in December 2017.
Although the potential cannabis tax is the only ballot measure San Benito County is planning for the June primary, county leaders appear ready to decide on other possible taxes.
“I know there was some discussion about voting to raise taxes, but that’s not what you would be doing,” Management Analyst Louie Valdez told supervisors at the Tuesday morning meeting. “You would be voting to place an item on the ballot for voters to voice their opinion on whether or not they want to increase that general sales tax.”
Supervisors are torn between supporting a Council of San Benito County Governments (COG) transportation sales tax or floating their own general sales tax. While a transportation sales tax would contribute money toward fixing roads and big transportation projects like widening Highway 25, a general sales tax would have more flexible uses. A general sales tax could help fund focus areas such as employee recruitment, retention, compensation, and department staffing levels, the new jail construction and operational costs, unincorporated fire and law enforcement service protection, a county library remodel/renovation, and more.
Valdez said the board needed a vision about what it will do with any future funds from the potential general sales tax.
“Three simple, but compelling goals the board can look at as a strategic measure is to explain to the public how it going to use their funds is increasing and improving the level of public safety, improving services to the community including the workforce, and business development.”
A general sales tax would require four-fifths majority approval from county supervisors to place it on the November ballot.
“I feel it is important if we go forward with a sales tax, we need to engage our bargaining units,” Supervisor Jerry Muenzer said, referring to the labor unions that represent county employees.
If a general purpose sales tax were to move forward, supervisors would have until August 10 to make the filing deadline for the Nov. 6 General Election. If approved by a majority vote of 50 percent plus one, the current county unincorporated sales tax rate of 7.25 percent would increase to 8.25 percent.
Previous sales tax failed
The board previously considered a 1 percent sales tax for the 2016 ballot, but voted 3-2 in November 2015 to put it off until 2018.
County Supervisor and COG Chairman Jaime De La Cruz said Tuesday that he was interested in pushing forward with a sales tax to address roads.
“If we don’t try in November for a road sales tax, we’re pushing ourselves back further,” De La Cruz said. “Sooner or later, we’re hoping the public understands that we need to fix our roads.”
While De La Cruz would not rule out a general sales tax completely, he said it could have a better chance in 2020.
“If we’re going to push a general sales tax to the public, we need to give the public a reason to have confidence in us that we’ll be doing the right thing,” De La Cruz said. “I honestly believe a general sales tax has a better chance in 2020. It will be a presidential race with higher turn out. You have a non-presidential race this year.”
The regional transportation agency worked to get a transportation sales tax passed in June 2016 with Measure P. The ballot measure fell well short of the necessary two-thirds vote, with 40.23 percent of eligible voters choosing No and 59.77 percent choosing Yes.
“Right now we’ve got to show that we’re going to do good for the community and I believe the road tax is the ambassador between the community and the board of supervisors,” De La Cruz said.
Supervisor Mark Medina said the county should look into spending money with the Economic Development Corporation of San Benito County to bring more businesses to the region to raise up the economy compared to increasing taxes.
“I continuously talk about growing the economy,” Medina said. “That’s where the revenue should come from. We need businesses here and with all respect to our staff, we need to be more business-friendly. If we invest in our county, if we invest in things that create revenue, life is much more simple than going to our residents every three to four years asking for a percent.”