Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, March 8 @ 5:53 p.m. / Elections, Local Government
Del Norte Supervisors Delay Measure R Repeal, Ask Staff to Outline Initiative's Impacts to Law Enforcement, Code Enforcement, Probation
Del Norte County supervisors on Tuesday called on staff to develop an analysis what Measure R did for county departments, preventing an initiative to repeal the 1 cent sales tax measure from appearing before voters on June 6.
This decision didn’t sit well with county resident Linda Sutter, who authored a petition to repeal the tax.
“I don’t know by asking for a report exactly will delay the process for us to vote on this in June — of course it will,” she said. “That’s pretty ugly because we collected nearly 900 signatures. People do not want this sales tax.”
With 528 verified signatures — out of a total of 852 collected — Sutter and the Crescent City-Del Note County Taxpayers Association, a nonprofit organization spearheading the initiative, gathered enough signatures for it to qualify for the June election.
On Tuesday, however, County Counsel Joel Campbell-Blair told supervisors they could either approve the initiative for the June primary or ask departments to report back in 30 days. The Board of Supervisors also could have repealed Measure R right then and there, but Campbell-Blair advised against that since voters approved the tax in 2020.
County staff will use those 30 days to gather information about what would happen “if the revenue source were gone,” Campbell-Blair said. This includes impacts to services, staffing levels and infrastructure, he said.
“To be clear, because of the timing of these things, it’s for the next statewide election that’s at least 83 days out,” Campbell-Blair told supervisors. “Thirty days from now, it won’t be June anymore, so one of the things you’re voting on, is it going to go in June or is it going to go in November.”
In her petition, Sutter claims that Del Norte County’s sales tax is “higher than Sacramento’s, which is 7.5 percent” — a claim she repeated on Tuesday.
In reality, Del Norte County’s sales tax was 8.5 percent as of January 2022, while Sacramento’s is 8.75 percent, according to California Department of Tax and Fee Administration numbers.
In her petition, Sutter stated that county employees haven’t voluntarily reduced their benefits and salaries and have “given themselves a raise.” There’s been no effort to reduce overhead costs or trim existing programs, she states. And “low-priority and unnecessary expenses remain in place.”
Sutter’s petition also criticizes Del Norte Unified School District and the Citizens Oversight Committee tasked with monitoring how a $25 million bond voters approved in 2008 is spent, though that has nothing to do with Measure R.
“The Citizens in the County of Del Norte are being taxed to death,” Sutter states. “Taxes alone eclipse those seen in the original Thirteen Colonies prior to the American Revolution of 1776; not to mention our lack of Local, State and Federal representation.”
Del Norte County voters narrowly approved Measure R in 2020 with 50.24 percent voting yes and 49.76 percent voting against it.
The tax measure was projected to generate $1.2 million in revenue annually, which would be used for law enforcement, emergency response, public infrastructure and other capital projects. According to a report to the Board of Supervisors from County Administrative Officer Neal Lopez, Measure R revenue is projected to be $1.6 million by the end of the fiscal year.
On Tuesday, District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard said much of the revenue the tax measure generated in its first year has been allocated and has likely already been spent.
He acknowledged that getting people to vote on a new tax was a tough sell, but it addressed issues voters were concerned about such as staffing issues within the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, Animal Control and county code enforcement.
“I don’t want to contemplate what it means to the Sheriff’s Office if we retract that 11.5 percent raise, which is in the MOU, if this were to be repealed,” Howard said. “This gives the people some time to think about it. And I think that’s what you want, to inform the voter. Instead of having crunch time down to June, now you have until November to get true information out to the voter.”
Norma Williams, president of the Del Norte Employees Association, had nothing good to say about Sutter’s petition. The raises mentioned in the petition were negotiated in good faith with the county, Williams said, though she speculated that a salary survey later this year would show that Del Norte County is “still under market in terms of salaries against comparable counties.”
Williams said she would support delaying placing the Measure R repeal on the ballot to allow administration to take a look at what it would mean.
“Quite frankly I can only tell you what it’s going to mean: A reduction in services, a reduction in programs and a reduction in staff,” Williams said. “This county has a problem with recruitment and retention. This so-called initiative puts the public at risk if it’s approved, bottomline. I see this as an anti-law enforcement pro-crime initiative and one that is not in the best interest of this community and is definitely a slap in the face to the county employees.”
Lonnie Reyman, Del Norte’s chief probation officer, said he understood both sides of the argument, but the raises his staff have received as a result of Measure R had been a “long time coming.”
“They feel valued, they feel supported by that,” Reyman told supervisors. “And financially it would be challenging for us as a department and them as individuals for it to change.”
The Crescent City-Del Norte County Taxpayers Association also has its eyes on repealing a similar 1 cent sales tax benefitting Crescent City — Measure S. Voters approved Measure S in 2020 with 904 our of 1,400 voting yes.
The association also hopes to overturn a 2021 property assessment benefitting the Crescent Fire Protection District.