What Public Safety Tax

by Lou Binninger

The first Measure K Sales Tax Increase court hearing occurred on March 19, with the “guvmint” taking two of two issues. The State of California, who is to enforce the law and collect taxes wanted out of the suit and escaped unscathed. The motion for an injunction postponing the tax until the lawsuit is settled was also rejected.

So, the additional 1% sales tax (now at 8.25%) will be collected beginning April 1st and the funds held until the suit is resolved. If the county loses, then the funds will be refunded. However, to obtain a refund should Measure K be invalidated purchasers need to possess all receipts to make application for return of their tax dollars.

Purchases in Yuba County will be assessed a higher sales tax than surrounding jurisdictions such as Yuba City / Sutter County. So, consumers can choose to shop elsewhere to avoid the increase except for auto and other purchases processed through the Department of Motor Vehicles. Those items are taxed by where the purchaser lives versus where the sale occurs.

In the hearing, Superior Court Judge Stephen Berrier contended from the beginning that he thought the case against K was weak and that “essential services” could mean libraries and parks, suggesting this was a general tax versus a public safety tax. Measure K opponents in the courtroom audibly reacted to the judge’s outlandish conclusion after a nearly a year-long public safety campaign for K. They were admonished for their outburst.

However, when Judge Berrier was reminded by the plaintiff’s attorney that the judge’s initial comments sounded like his mind was “made-up” prior to hearing arguments and seeing evidence, Berrier walked back his statement.

The pressure is certainly on the opponents of K to show the judge in the courtroom that Measure K was pitched as a Public Safety tax throughout the marketing campaign.

The numerous campaign town hall-style gatherings were not called pension fund meetings, library and parks meetings, general services or homeless fund meetings. They were called “Public Safety Meetings.” And neither the librarian nor parks department director gave a talk. Neither did the Health Department or Human Services representatives speak. Human Resources people were missing as well.

The experts were County Administrator Bendorf, Sheriff Durfor and then Sheriff Anderson, fire department representatives, District Attorney McGrath and Probation Director Arnold. The attendees were told that the county had a “public safety” crisis. Night after night the Public Safety road show told tales of woe, of skeleton crews and one-hour 911 response times.

Outdoor signage scattered everywhere reflected the need for law enforcement and fire protection. However, the Grass Valley law firm hired with tax dollars to defend the county and the bait and switch campaign is hoping the judge lacks discernment, is a “guvmint” man, and the people have amnesia.

On September 11, 2018, County Document 820/2018 offered details provided by the public safety leaders (noted above) to the Supervisors for an annual expenditure of projected K Funds collected, between $4.3 and 4.9 million. The lower figure was used for budgeting.

            The document purposes monies for 14 deputies $1,692,000; 4 dispatchers $360,000; 2 jail correctional officers $180,000; associated equipment and training for sheriff’s department $244,800; 3 positions in the District Attorney’s office $309,600, 2 positions and increasing medical costs ($157,725) for Probation / Juvenile Hall $309,600; Fire Services $860,000, and $344,000 of the $4.3 million or (8%) for “Essential Services” described as economic development, infrastructure, marketing, and resident services.

There was no mention anywhere of libraries and parks under “essential services” as Judge Berrier speculated.

Since the election and Measure K’s supposed passage, the Yuba County Water Agency overseen by the same five people that serve as County Supervisors serendipitously found $635,000 (return of county tax dollars and payment of 50% of Supervisors’ county salaries) to send the county’s way annually. However, the money is to reside in the general fund rather than the “special fund” reserved for “public safety.” All the attention lately is on adjusting Water Directors’ and Supervisors’ salaries versus the urgent need to hire more deputies.

The next court date will set the schedule to argue the merits of the lawsuit brought by Measure K opponents.