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Supervisors take county sales tax off the table

Election 2016

On the heels of a failed road tax measure, county supervisors for now are saying no to the possibility of a general sales tax in unincorporated areas.
Board members at a special meeting June 22 indicated a lack of support for moving ahead on a November sales tax initiative in unincorporated areas of the county. There wasn’t a vote on the matter, after county staff officials had sought direction with an Aug. 12 deadline looming to place any items on the November ballot, meaning the board likely won’t move ahead on the question of a 1 percent sales tax in a little more than four months.
If no action is taken on the matter, staff “cannot proceed to place the question on the ballot and the measure effectively dies for lack of support,” wrote Clerk Louie Valdez, in response to questions on the special meeting.
The board chairman, who indicated opposition to a ballot measure last week, said the recent rejection of the Measure P roads tax was a signal to supervisors on the proposed 1 percent general tax previously broached for November. The county, if it placed a question on the upcoming ballot, also would have to compete with an expected City of Hollister sales tax extension and two potential school bonds, at the high school and Hollister elementary school districts.
The board’s signaled intentions last week appear to have culminated about a year of discussion on a county sales tax for a municipality facing multimillion-dollar deficits in recent years. The board as a whole previously indicated support for placing a 1 percent sales tax measure on the November ballot.
Board Chairman Robert Rivas when interviewed Monday said supervisors had taken a wait-and-see approach and wanted to examine the success or failure of Measure P, the half-cent sales tax that failed to reach its two-thirds voter-approval threshold.
The countywide measure’s performance was discouraging, despite nearly 60 percent approval when needing 66.6 percent, when considering a county tax, Rivas implied. He noted how the unincorporated county is more conservative politically, meaning it would be a much tougher sell there, even for the 50 percent threshold needed on a general tax.
“Our board was always on the fence,” Rivas said.
The chairman said he would actually prefer pursuing a special tax, needing a higher approval percentage, because it would allow the county to present a specific plan on how to spend $2 million to $3 million in additional revenue and convince voters of the cause. Rivas said the county could consider bringing a new sales-tax measure back to the ballot in 2018.
He mentioned that some voters were against the recent Measure P due to its term length, 30 years, while some others pointed to the proposal allocating 50 percent of revenue to Highway 25.
One of two supervisors indicating support for a general tax ballot measure, Margie Barrios, called the consideration an “urgent matter” and argued that supporters would have enough time to convince voters on the measure’s benefits.
Barrios in arguing for the November ballot placement pointed out to the Free Lance how more than 50 percent of county voters supported the Measure P roads tax. She also said if the tax term is of concern to voters, supervisors could elect for a shorter time frame than, say, the 30 years broached with the roads tax. Barrios agreed that trust is an issue among voters.
“Build that trust. Do what we say we’re doing to do,” Barrios said. “Then we can go for a longer term.”
She said the state has indicated there will be fewer dollars available to local jurisdictions going forward and that developing local revenue streams might bode well when requesting grant dollars.
“We’re going to look better because we’re doing something about it,” Barrios said.