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Nevada County supervisors put half-cent sales tax on ballot

Over 100 people attended Tuesday’s Nevada County Board of Supervisors meeting regarding the half-cent sales tax for fire prevention. Some showed support while others were critical, including Grass Valley Mayor Ben Aguilar.
Elias Funez/The Union

Nevada County supervisors at a public hearing on Tuesday voted 4-to-1 to put a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot.

Supervisor Dan Miller opposed. The vote had to pass by four-fifths, meaning the measure will appear on the ballot.

Supervisors agreed to a 10-year sunset on the sales tax, if it passes. The county will work on agreements between itself and Grass Valley, Nevada City and Truckee on how the tax dollars will be allocated.



“The bottom line is, the people need to make the choice,” Supervisor Sue Hoek said moments before the vote.

Supervisor Hardy Bullock in a press release Thursday evening said it was a tough decision, a “profound challenge,” and added the solution was not perfect for everyone.



“The proposed measure could have been prepared better that incorporated community input earlier on and we, the county team as a whole, are responsible for that,” Bullock said. ”Yet a path towards a solution to a looming existential threat is a solution all the same.  The potential cost of inaction, deferred decisions, or failure is too high. The public will have the opportunity to speak through their vote on an issue that places them in direct risk every day.  

“If passed by the voters, the responsibility is on the Board of Supervisors to ensure the right work gets done to deliver a solid difference,” Bullock added. “Bringing county resources to our biggest challenges is philosophically what I support, doing so isn’t easy but we made the right choice today for a future tomorrow.”  

Over 100 people attended the meeting, filling seats and lining the back walls as fire and county officials listed reasons for why the tax is needed. They say $12 million could be raised each year, and go toward roadside vegetation abatement, homeless outreach and more green waste drop-off events each year.

Truckee and Grass Valley officials leaned against the tax during public comment.

David Polivy, a Truckee councilman, said he wanted to speak not as a council member, but instead as a small business owner. He urged supervisors over live video to either table the tax measure or choose against putting it on the November ballot.

“As a business owner, I’m strongly opposed to this measure,” Polivy said.

According to Polivy, Truckee’s Measure T — which passed last year and taxes property owners $179 per parcel, per year for wildfire mitigation and prevention — duplicates much of what the sales tax proposes.

If supervisors chose to put it to a vote, Polivy said a six- to eight-year sunset provision should be included.

Grass Valley Mayor Ben Aguilar argued the tax should be general, not special. A general tax requires only a simple majority to pass, and the money raised would go into the general fund with no specific restriction on how it’s spent. Aguilar asked for a document detailing how the money would be allocated, a financial study and a sunset clause — the latter a common request from opponents.

Joy Porter, a downtown Grass Valley business owner, called the measure “quiet.” Porter said county staff didn’t approach the city’s downtown association.

“We are a big stakeholder,” Porter said, asking supervisors to table the measure. “Give us some time to work it out as a team.”

Supervisor Dan Miller said he had 75 signatures from Grass Valley business owners who want supervisors to table the measure.

“Frankly, they’re scared,” Miller said. “Timing is terrible.”

Miller cited inflation, higher interest rates and rising prices as concerns.

“Now we’re going to throw another half-cent on top. I wouldn’t mind putting something on the ballot that made sense and this doesn’t make sense right now.”

Support

While many spoke against the tax, several agreed there was a need. A graph displayed on a screen during the meeting showed the county had received 125 written comments in favor of the tax, and 16 opposed.

Scott Beesley — representing the Nevada County Coalition of Firewise Communities, which contains over 25,000 households — urged supervisors to put the measure on the November ballot. He said the sales tax would enable the county to adapt.

“We know today we have to manage the forest,” Beesley said. “Smokey (the Bear) has adapted, and we do as well.”

Beesley asked supervisors not to get hung up on minutiae and details. There will always be different ways to spend money, he said.

“Put this measure on the ballot, let us vote this fall,” he said.

Michael LaMarca, with Sierra Cinemas, said he’s been evacuated or close to evacuation three times. He knows the economic impact his city has faced, but said the urgency of the situation has led him to support it.

“I, for one, would vote for it in November if it were on the ballot,” he added.

Wade Laughter, speaking by telephone, said he’s been paying more attention to evacuation routes over the past few years.

“I think it’s going to be an interesting election if you put it on the ballot,” Laughter said.

Details

Fire and county officials detailed the sales tax measure before public comment.

Steve Monaghan, director of the county’s Information and General Services Department, listed what a half-cent sales tax could fund, if implemented.

It currently takes 10 years for county workers to reach all county roads and abate roadside vegetation. The sales tax could shorten that to three years, Monaghan said.

The tax also could create a greater outreach to homeless people.

“We’ve been doing this work, we just need to do more of it,” Monaghan said.

More annual visits to homeowners — from just a few hundred now to thousands of visits — would help with home hardening. It would enable the possibility of more grant funding, and mean more than only one green waste drop-off event a year, Monaghan said.

“These funds will be local funds controlled locally, which cannot be taken away by the state,” he said.

Cal Fire Chief Brian Estes said the Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit had 361 wildland fires in 2021, and 282 fires so far this year.

Alan Riquelmy is the managing editor of The Union. He can be reached at ariquelmy@theunion.com or 530-477-4249.


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