Jessica Cejnar / Thursday, July 16, 2020 @ 3:17 p.m. / Local Government

City, County Take Further Steps Toward Placing Tax Measures on November Ballot; Councilors Approve $33,900 Agreement For Consultant

A Crescent City Fire & Rescue truck rolls down H Street during the 2019 Fourth of July parade. Photo: Jessica Cejnar


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The Crescent City Council and Del Norte County Board of Supervisors took further steps Tuesday toward placing their respective sales tax initiatives on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Both entities are pursuing 1 cent general sales tax measures for public safety with the city’s measure to be applied within its jurisdiction and the county’s initiative to apply to the unincorporated areas.

The Board of Supervisors, by consensus, agreed to establish a citizens oversight committee consisting of five members of the public and the county administrative officer and the county auditor or their designees as non-voting members. Supervisors will be asked to vote on a draft of the tax ordinance at its July 28 meeting.

The Crescent City Council on Tuesday also agreed to establish a citizens oversight committee consisting of five public members and the city manager and finance director or their designees in non-voting positions. Both committees will provide a public report on how money the tax measures generate will be used, according to County Counsel Joel Campbell-Blair and City Attorney Martha Rice.

“As a general tax, the only body that can disburse funds would be the Board of Supervisors unless specifically budgeted,” Campbell-Blair said of the county’s sales tax measure. “We’re not talking about a body that has control over the funds. It’s an accountability function.”

If approved, the county’s sales tax measure would increase the tax rate outside Crescent City limits to 8.5 percent and could generate about $1.2 million in revenue, according to CAO Jay Sarina.

If the city’s sales tax measure passes, it would increase the tax rate inside its jurisdiction the current 7.5 percent to 8.5 percent through 2022. When a sales tax benefitting the Del Norte County Fairgrounds sunsets in 2022, the sales tax rate inside city limits would be 8.25 percent if its proposed measure passes, according to City Manager Eric Wier.

The city’s proposed sales tax measure would generate $1.3 million annually, according to Wier. That money would be used to help Crescent City Fire & Rescue transition into a hybrid department incorporating paid captains and volunteer staff. It would allow the Crescent City Police Department to meet its staffing needs, ensuring patrol officers are on duty for each shift. The money would also be used to sustain the Fred Endert Municipal Pool and would fix potholes, resurface streets, install and repair sidewalks, according to the city’s staff report.

“If you look at the city, we have a limited number of actual city residents that live in the city, but there’s lots of people that come to the city, that work in the city, tourists, that come in to shop  at our local stores, shop at Safeway,” Wier said, adding that groceries or prescriptions would not be taxed. “All of those people who pay sales tax when they’re here also utilize these services this sales tax would go to fund.”

On Tuesday Councilors also approved a professional services agreement with Arcata-based Planwest Partners not to exceed $33,900. Planwest Partners and its subcontractor TBWBH Props & Measures will conduct an informational outreach campaign on the tax measure ahead of the November election.

According to Wier, $17,650 pays for Planwest and TBWBH. The other $16,200 is for mailers and other material costs, he said.

Noting that cities and other governing bodies can’t advocate for a tax or bond measure that benefits their agency, TBWBH partner Joy Kummer said any material her firm creates for Crescent City would be vetted by their legal counsel before disseminated to the public.

That information could take the form of power point presentations, informational videos, mailers, online and social media content, Kummer said. One of her tasks will be to take the power point presentation Wier gave to the City Council, condense it down to a 1-page fact sheet the city can share and to develop a “frequently asked questions” document that can be shared at meetings held by community organizations such as the local Rotary clubs.

“What we put into our budget — we’re looking at the potential of two mailings plus digital media efforts plus we’re considering different video and other online opportunities,” Kummer said. “Mail will go to every registered voter. As informational we cannot target, we’re not just targeting likely voters, we’re opening this up to anyone able to vote. Our media efforts will talk to anybody in the community regardless of voter status.”

However, due to safety measures against COVID-19 discouraging public gatherings, Kummer said, those chamber of commerce and Rotary meetings are limited.

Another challenge for the city’s proposed tax measure is the number of other measures on the California ballot for Nov. 3, Kummer said.

“There are 14 statewide ballot measures on the ballot,” she said. “People will go from president through statewides and keep moving down the ballot until they finally get to your ballot measure. Making sure we can be heard above all the noise that’ll be going on this November — that'll be the real challenge.”

During Kummer’s presentation, Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore asked about other forms of outreach besides print media, mailers and social media.

Kummer said her firm has several ways to reach out to the public, including incorporating the city’s website and other online resources as well as digital media. One effective tool, she said, is getting police officers, firefighters and other staff to put together testimonials about the ballot measure.

Though Crescent City can’t advocate for its proposed tax measure, either through its staff or through printed or other material it generates, its elected officials can advocate for the initiative to community groups and via the Internet, Rice said.

“You can certainly use information that is compiled and disseminated by the city once it’s out there and it’s public,” Rice said. “You can post (it) on your website. You can do all of those things and as an elected official, you can advocate for passage of the measure.”

Though it won’t be on the Nov. 3 ballot, residents living within the Crescent Fire Protection District will be asked to approve a property tax assessment which would pay for its part in Crescent City Fire & Rescue’s transition to a hybrid fire department.

That property tax assessment will appear on a separate ballot mailed to fire protection district residents in September and October.

According to a 10-year masterplan adopted by both the fire protection district Board of Directors and the Crescent City Council in November 2019, the hybrid fire department, which includes additional apparatus, equipment and training, would cost a total of $662,714. Crescent City would kick in $307,000 and the Crescent Fire Protection District would contribute $465,640.

During public comment, Darrin Short, who will replace Roger Gitlin as District 1 supervisor in January, said he wanted to clarify how an $18 property assessment that benefits the Crescent Fire Protection District and is sunsetting soon was used.

That assessment was used to purchase a rescue vehicle, a fire engine and a water tender, Short said. The revenue generated by that property tax assessment just covered the $1 million purchase price of those vehicles, he said.

“I’m talking about the Crescent Fire Protection District, we have not asked for money for operations since 1986,” Short said. “That is when the first $24 benefit assessment came into effect. I think that should ring a little stronger with the taxpayer that we have not increased our operations budget, Crescent Fire Protection District’s operations budget, since 1986.”

Inscore also pointed out that Crescent City isn’t in the habit of asking the taxpayers for additional monies either.

“We have made do with what we have for many years,” he said. “Now we’re saying if you want to continue to have this level of service, it costs more. And everybody knows it costs more, it’s just how we sell the good work that we do.”

Though the City Council approved the $33,900 contract with Planwest, Councilors asked Planwest partner Colette Mettz and Kummer to bring a revised scope of work back to them for review at their Monday meeting.


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