The Mendocino County board of supervisors voted to move forward with a sales tax measure that would provide funding for fire mitigation, fire emergency services and water retention.
Supervisors voted on a draft version of the controversial measure in the BOS budget meeting Wednesday, June 8. They will cast a final vote during a meeting on July 12 once the language of the measure is finalized, fifth district Supervisor Ted Williams said. If passed, the sales tax measure would go on the November ballot.
“Fire and ambulance I see as part of public safety, and the county has done far too little to support fire and ambulance,” Williams said in an interview with the Voice. “We see that the climate’s shifting, we have more fire activity. The first resources we’ve seen tend to be volunteers…It’s time that we, the county, get involved in at least supplying the tools they need to get the job done.”
Supervisor Maureen Mulheren, who represents the second district, initially proposed the sales tax be a three-eighths-cent tax, with 60% of the funds going toward fire mitigation and emergency services and 40% going toward water retention efforts. Supervisors ultimately voted to move forward with the measure without specifying the amount of the tax and will continue debating that figure in the weeks to come.
The measure comes as the Citizens’ Committee Initiative for the Library 2022 filed its petition for a quarter-cent sales tax measure to be placed on the November ballot. Supervisor Dan Gjerde, who represents the fourth district, opposed Mulheren’s proposal for a fire and water sales tax largely because of the library sales tax. Signed petitions supporting the library tax ballot measure were filed Tuesday, the group announced.
Gjerde argued that the swift movement on the fire and water sales tax — which was first discussed in a May 17 supervisors meeting — was unfair to the library initiative and may result in the failure of both tax initiatives if voters are asked to consider more than one tax on a single ballot.
“Consumers are experiencing the highest inflation they have seen in four decades, and their economic future is uncertain,” Gjerde said in the June 8 meeting. “This is not the time to place multiple taxes on an election ballot.”
The Citizens’ Committee Initiative for the Library began gathering signatures earlier this year to renew Measure A, a strategic plan for library funding that was developed in 2019. The petition also requested a one-eighth-of-a-cent sales tax from the sunsetting of Measure B — a proposed plan for a sales tax increase passed in 2017 — for a total of a quarter-cent sales tax. About 40% of the tax would go towards improving library buildings, the group said.
The library group’s proposal would not raise taxes because it is requesting funds from already existing taxes. Gjerde said adding a second sales tax for a separate initiative may anger voters who don’t wish to pay more in taxes. He also argued that the board’s proposed tax was not vetted by constituents as was the library tax, and the board did not give enough time for public consideration.
But the ongoing drought in the state and ever-increasing fire danger must be addressed now, Williams argued.
“The board has no control of choreographing our tax measures with the climate, this is happening with or without us,” Williams said in the meeting. “We have a water problem that we can’t solve today that will affect the entire county.”
Williams, chair of the board, expressed concern for being split as a board on the measure, wanting each member to be on the same page. But supervisors did not reach an agreement on how much the tax for fire and water safety should be.
In the meeting, Gjerde said that if the finalized measure is three-eighths of a cent, he would campaign against it. If the measure was a quarter-cent, he would remain neutral.
The board will work to finalize the specifics before voting to put the measure on the November ballot. Williams and Mulheren stressed the importance of the changing climate, and the consequences of fire danger and drought if left unaddressed as they urged their colleagues to approve the measure.
“How many books will you be checking out from the library if your neighborhood’s on fire and you can’t flush your toilet?” Williams said in an interview with The Voice. “It’s unfortunate that there’s a lack of funding available for some of the core public safety concerns, and if we don’t find a way to remedy that a lot of the county will become less and less viable for habitation.”