LAKEPORT, Calif. – The concept of a sales tax measure to fund programs to improve the health of Clear Lake went before the Board of Supervisors this week and was informally discussed by the Lakeport City County as well.
Supervisor Anthony Farrington took the issue to the board at its meeting this past Tuesday, asking for the consideration of a one-quarter to half-cent sales tax measure for lake-related programs. He noted during the discussion that he was personally leaning toward a half-cent tax.
“We’ve talked about this as an entire board for quite some time,” he said.
The county appropriated $1.3 million for the current fiscal year for various lake programs, and Farrington said that money will be expended by the end of this summer.
The revenues from the proposed measure would be used for abatement of aquatic weeds and algae, and protecting the lake from invasive mussels, he said. The funds would not be used for funding government administration, salaries or benefits.
Because Farrington wants to ensure that the money is used for the lake, he proposed pursuing a specific use tax, which would require a super majority of at least 66 percent.
“That way the voters know that money is locked in,” he said.
Farrington said the tax could bring in $2.2 million a year, and would increase as the economy improves.
On a $20 purchase, the quarter-cent sales tax would amount to five cents, and the half-cent sales tax would amount to 10 cents.
Supervisor Denise Rushing thanked Farrington for bringing the proposal forward.
“It’s really hard to get 66 percent. It’s going to be really, really difficult to do that,” she said.
However, she suggested that if people in the county can rally around something, it should be Clear Lake.
Supervisor Jeff Smith wanted to put the discussion off a week and bring it back on Tuesday, June 26, when the board is expected to discuss another proposed sales tax measure for roads.
The Lake County/City Area Planning Council has presented the idea to both city councils and will make a presentation to the board at the June 26 meeting.
“We can’t do two sales tax measures as far as I’m concerned,” Smith said.
He added, “It looks like we’re getting greedy.”
Smith said the road tax measure has been in the works for years.
The county and the two cities needed to come up with something on which they could all agree, Smith said. “Otherwise we could be left out in the cold.”
Smith said there will need to be a concerted effort to sell the road sales tax to the community, as Measure P – which supports the Clearlake Police Department – was promoted to voters in 1996. As a result, there was an 86 percent “yes” vote.
“I don’t want to be in a scenario where we’re pitting the roads against the lake or vice versa,” said Farrington.
He said he saw a very engaged process with the effort to defeat Measure D, which was a voter initiative regarding marijuana cultivation which was defeated 66 percent to 33 percent on June 5.
Farrington said the people spoke loud and clear. “I think they were dead on.”
The same engaged process needs to be used to address the lake, he said.
He said the board has worked hard on lake issues over the last decade and made a lot of headway, and recently has had no complaints about aquatic weeds.
However, they already are getting calls about algae blooms and matting, and Farrington said he has business owners telling him they will close their doors if nothing is done.
If invasive mussels – such as the quagga or zebra – get into the lake, it’s going to be a whole new game, he said.
The board decided to hold the discussion over, and will bring it back on June 26 along with the road tax matter.
A need to think regionally
Farrington attended the Lakeport City Council later that day along with county Public Works Director Scott De Leon.
De Leon gave the council an update on the Lake County Water Resources aquatic weeds program, which came from the $1.3 million the county set aside for lake projects.
He said they developed a management area around the lake with the goal of making it usable. Last year was the first time it was implemented.
The result has been one of Water Resources’ most successful programs. De Leon said Farrington hasn’t received any aquatic weed complaints.
De Leon said 230 surface acres lakewide are being treated in the program. Before the program started, the county was only treating 25 to 30 acres of the lake.
They’ve cleared boating lanes and put out red and green navigational buoys. “If you follow the buoys you’ll stay out of the weeds,” De Leon said.
The entire program costs $315,000, while treating the 55 acres along the Lakeport shoreline costs $68,750, De Leon said.
“It’s really important to note that we’re out of money,” said De Leon.
Recently retired County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox put the $1.3 million for lake projects aside two years ago.
“We're going to be exhausting that one-time money at the end of this season,” De Leon said.
Referring to the board’s lake sales tax discussion earlier that day, De Leon said he couldn’t speak for the board but his interpretation of their comments was that the supervisors supported putting it before voters.
With the county unlikely to get help from the state or federal governments for lake issues, De Leon said the county was at a crossroads.
“We’re not going to be able to continue the program without any outside funding,” he said.
If just one sales tax measure was to pass, “Which tax would you prefer?” Lakeport Mayor Stacey Mattina asked De Leon.
De Leon said he couldn’t offer an opinion.
“That’s all you have?” Mattina asked.
“Each is important to our county,” said De Leon.
“The lake is arguably the economic engine for Lake County,” he said, but roads are needed to get there.
He said he prefered to say that it’s important for all citizens in Lake County to realize that the county does not have funds from the state “to do what we need to do” – whether it’s for the roads or the lake.
De Leon said the lake needs to be protected first and foremost from the quagga mussel, which also will exacerbate weeds and algae issues.
“Our lake will significantly decline if those things get in here,” he said.
“We do not have any help and we're not going to get any help. And that's the bottom line,” said De Leon, telling the council that everyone needed to think regionally.
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