Supervisors spar over proposed countywide sales tax

Contra Costa Supervisors John Gioia (D-I) and Mary Piepho (D-III) traded barbs today during a hearing to consider whether the County should spend $45,000 for a professional survey to help determine the feasibility of placing either a quarter (1/4) or half (1/2) cent countywide sales tax on the November ballot to help fun public safety, emergency services, healthcare, and more.

The Board Order also directs Supervisors to appeal to state legislators to help pave the way by introducing special legislation in the California State Assembly to enable such a measure.

Supervisor Gioia (Richmond), was joined by Supervisors Karen Mitchoff (Pleasant Hill), and Federal Glover (Pittsburg) in a 3-2 vote to pass the resolution that was opposed by Piepho (Discovery Bay) and Candace Andersen (Alamo).

But the discussion, and subsequent vote, really wasn’t about the $45,000 for a poll.

John GioiaSupervisor Gioia argued that a countywide sales tax would be no different than the sales tax passed in Concord (Measure Q) and other cities (e.g. Antioch), to help fund budgets drastically weakened by the mortgage meltdown of 2008 and the subsequent Great Recession. Gioia argued that it would be in the “collective public good” for all of the communities in Contra Costa, including the wealthiest, to contribute to the overall welfare of County residents.

Glover argued for the poll to take place as it would provide a good guideline of voter preference. Mitchoff blamed budget shortfalls on a combination of impacts from Prop 13 to decreased home values.

Piepho argued that the countywide sales tax plan had not followed the normal committee procedure, was not well thought out, too broad, too rushed, and unclear of its objectives. She noted that after rejecting property tax increases for East County Fire, ConFire, and West County Health District Measure C, voters were fatigued of the onslaught of tax measures coming at them from numerous public agencies.

supervisor mary piepho-200The East County Supervisor dug in and countered Gioia’s claim that a General Fund tax was just like Measure Q in Concord by noting that the comparison by Gioia was a false premise and did not compare “apples to apples,” in that city funds from sales tax measures were locally raised and locally spent for local benefit; a far cry from funnelling money about the county for vague, largely undetermined projects, possibly of no benefit to taxpayers in many communities.

Piepho complained that there was nothing that would prevent another situation like in Antioch that promised to use sales tax funds to put more cops on the street but hasn’t done so. “I don’t want to be a part of that,” she exclaimed.

Supervisor Andersen objected to the proposal from the outset, noting her opposition even prior to public comment. “This is not in the best interest of the County,” she said. “I don’t think we should spend $45,000 on this.”

contra costa treasurer endorse candace andersen for supervisor district 2Andersen also raised the question of whether the proposed levy would be a special or general tax. What will the monies be spent on? Can it change later as subsequent Supervisors change their minds and spend “General Fund” dollars any way they want?

“How can we know whether there will be accountability and clear objectives,” she asked, also noting that the County had yet to obtain State Legislative approval while facing an August deadline for the measure to be able to appear on the November ballot.

Andersen went on to identify the struggles of Doctors Medical Center (DMC) in El Sobrante, as the seemingly the primary concern driving the tax proposal. Voters in the West County Health District recently defeated Measure C that would have help keep DMC doors open. With the defeat of Measure C, DMC is scheduled to run out of money by July, noted Eric Zell, Chairman of the Board of DMC. Indeed, many of the public commenters in favor of the Board Order pleaded for the County to take over DMC as another County Hospital, clouding the tangle of purported objectives of the proposed tax, which would raise only $40M at 1/4 cent to $80M if a half-cent tax were to be passed.

Zell said, “No matter what happens with the tax, it won’t happen soon enough to save DMC.”

Mitchoff agreed that there ought to be a sunset clause and citizen oversight committees, while Gioia said, voters need to trust the Supervisors they elected to make good decisions for the collective common good.

As reported previously at Halfway To Concord, (here, here, and here), the proposed countywide sales tax could be used for a broad range of “I wish we had more money for“: reopen fire stations, put more Sheriffs on County patrolled streets, add Library hours, help fund emergency services, and provide for healthcare and child education services.

Contra Costa Board Order to Investigate New Sales Tax 2014

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Comments

  1. Kris Hunt says

    This is the kind of tax that they try to sell by listing all of the things it can go toward and hoping that people will hear something they like and support it. This will include fire services, library services, EMS, whatever they think will appeal without there possibly being enough money to cover it all Alas, it works all too often.

    However, California has a huge unemployment/underemployment rate. For the first quarter of 2014 it was still 16.7%. It would appear there is little appetite for tax increases among a lot of people.

    • says

      Furthermore, it is my understanding that as a general tax, revenue goes to the General Fund without earmarks. The Supervisors can direct the money to any project of their choosing. The County could invest it all into an emergency services facility in collaboration with other health agencies and hospitals. It could spend all the money on putting more Sheriff boots on the ground. in fact, a new Board of Supervisors could decide to spend the “Measure X” revenue of an arts program, or community gardens, or electric car charging stations if it wanted to. If they truly want a special assessment tax for a specific purposes then the County needs to make a case for that purpose.

  2. EMS Advocate says

    Money from a sales tax like this can’t go directly to special districts or cities, but it can be used to reimburse cities and districts for county costs they are currently absorbing and causing tremendous financial strain.

    EMS is a county responsibility, and Doctors Hospital is part of the network that provides these services, just as the many E.R.s, ambulance service, and the EMS/BLS/ALS provided by firefighters.

    If we can’t trust the BOS to distribute general tax funds properly then who can we trust? (ok, sort of kidding about that….but that is what we elect them to do)

  3. says

    Nice summary of the discussion. Mary is right that this proposal is rushed and hasn’t followed the Board’s typical committee process. John is trying to find an answer to address a real problem in his district – the closure of DMC and loss of emergency room services. I think Karen and Federal are open to the idea as an additional tool available to address the Con Fire funding issue. (I know – that issue requires MANY tools.)

    As you know – to be a “general” sales tax the Board cannot say specifically how they would spend the money. Further, it will take 4 votes to place a measure on the ballot. So the Board majority that funded the voter survey must hope the results – and intervening public input – persuade either Mary or Candace to join them before the early August deadline.