Commentary: Wrong Time For Sales Tax Proposal For Yolo County

recessionThe County Board of Supervisors this week discussed a proposal that would ask Yolo County voters to approve a measure that would raise the sales tax by half a percent to generate somewhere between five and seven million to alleviate struggles at the County level that have produced a twenty million dollar deficit for the coming fiscal year and will lead to a widespread cutback in services ranging from health and mental health to law enforcement.

The Vanguard is certainly sympathetic to the county’s plight particularly in light of the devastating cuts to health care services that will put all county residents at a great health risk.  However, the Vanguard does not believe that this is a feasible plan.

For one thing, any vote requires two-thirds support and would have to rely heavily on the city of Davis to off-set the more conservative portions of the county.

However, the city of Davis voters are facing their own problems.  In June, the city will ask them to renew their own half-cent sales tax – a measure that has been scrutinized and criticized heavily on these pages.

The school district is in the process of not only laying off over a 100 employees, but will be polling to see if support exists for yet another parcel tax.  Currently city residents who own homes are paying $320 per year to aid the schools, the number go up as high as $600 if current proposals are put on the ballot and approved by the voters in November.

Moreover, few residents of Davis know it yet, but they are facing a series of annual 18% rate hikes for water, possibly starting later this year.  It is not a “tax” per se, but will nevertheless “tax” people’s pocketbooks.

All of this at a time when the two biggest employers in Davis – UC Davis and the State of California are cutting back on wages, laying people off, and putting some of furloughs.  Davis has traditionally back tax measures, but given the current economic malaise, will they continue to?

Woodland, for their part is fighting their own quarter-percent sales tax that will be on the ballot in June.

Thus a county proposal likely would compete with the school parcel tax and follow the rate hike for water and the city’s half-percent sales tax renewal in June.  In 2007, voters in Davis passed simultaneous parcel taxes for schools and the library, but in very different economic times.

There are far more complications that just this.  Because 90 percent of the county lives in cities, the cities and not the county would have to put the measure on the ballot.  Would the cities, that are financially strapped, pass the money through to the county?

Dirk Brazil, Deputy County Administrator suggested that this could set up a tug-of-war between the county and cities as to how much money would go to which location.

For his part, County Supervisor Jim Provenza suggested making it a public safety tax as the deficit could force the sheriff’s to cut back on patrols and release small-time criminals from the county jail.  But what about the health and mental health services that are being decimated?

Supervisor Matt Rexroad argued that this effort was doomed as Yolo County residents identify themselves with the city they live rather than the county.  Moreover, most of the county services are directly utilized by non-voters – the indigent who rely on health services and food assistance and criminals who utilize the criminal justice system.

People in this county who vote have a much more direct contact with the schools and their city than they do the county and county services.  And while Mr. Provenza suggested a public safety tax, he needs to remember that only about 24,000 people rely on the Sheriff’s Department for their primary law enforcement.  Most in this county rely on municipal police services.

Supervisors Jim Provenza and Matt Rexroad will serve on the subcommittee that will look into these matters.  But to me this proposal seems dead on arrival.  The bottom line is that people are not likely to support a tax during these times that goes to services that they do not consume directly and have little connection to.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. eagle eye

    As long as the Sheriff’s staff has time to go out to lunch and then shoot a Mexican 6 times in the back while returning to the office, they’re probably over funded and don’t have enough real work to do.

    At the same time it’s not just the mentally ill and indigent who need county services. Friends and relatives of the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and the unemployed, to name a few, depend on county services to help those they know and care about.

    According to Pat Leary, the county has long had a history of paying its
    vendors “like one big happy family”, and not checking whether billings are correct or not, “we just pay the bills and trust they’re correct”.
    When the Mental Health Director asked vendors to substantiate their bills, he was soon dismissed. Now, those who can least afford it are paying the price, i.e., those who are not part of the big happy family.

    Personally, I’d vote for more taxes to keep services that people, and, in the end, our communities really need. Do we want homeless people sleeping all over town, untreated mentally ill people accosting us as we shop downtown, sick and contagious people spreading illness of one sort or another? I’d rather pay more taxes now, and demand the county and the cities be more fiscally responsible in the future.

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