LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – A proposal for a countywide sales tax measure appears to have died after the Clearlake City Council voted Thursday night to pursue its own city-specific measure.
The Lake County/City Area Planning Council has taken the proposal for a half- or one-cent sales tax for road and transportation projects to the Clearlake City Council, Lakeport City Council and the Board of Supervisors this month.
Phil Dow of the Lake County/City Area Planning Council estimated that such a transportation measure could raise $2.5 million for every half-cent assessed.
Yet Dow said even that amount of money won’t stop the “free fall” in pavement quality in Lake County, where recent pavement condition indexes place pavement conditions for both cities and the county in the “poor” category.
Rather, Dow said it will keep pavement from further deteriorating and lead to modest improvements over the next 10 to 20 years.
Area Planning Council officials stressed the importance of having buy in from all of the local jurisdictions in light of the failure of several similar sales tax measures efforts, the last of which was about a decade ago.
Clearlake City Council members on Thursday expressed concerns about where the money ultimately would go if the city participated in the countywide effort.
They voiced their desire to not work with the county but to go it on their own and keep control of their own money, possibly seeking as much as a one-cent tax, a portion of which could be devoted to funding code enforcement activities.
Attempting to address the council’s concerns Thursday night, Lake County Assistant Public Works Director Lars Ewing explained that no decisions had yet been made about how the funds from such a measure would be distributed.
He explained that the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday had directed Public Works staff to come back with an expenditure plan for the proposed measure.
Ewing told the council that there were no mechanisms to allow an unincorporated area to institute such tax measures itself unless it worked with cities to do so.
Without the support of the cities, the county would essentially be locked out, Ewing said.
Clearlake Mayor Joey Luiz – echoing sentiments by fellow council members Joyce Overton and Jeri Spittler – said he was concerned that there was not enough support countywide, and wanted to pursue a citywide ballot measure to keep the money in Clearlake.
“Unfortunately Clearlake holds the cards this time,” Luiz said before the vote, which was 3-0 to move forward with working out the details on Clearlake’s proposed measure.
Council members Curt Giambruno and Judy Thein were absent from the meeting.
State and federal funding sources for local roads have continued to dwindle, leaving the county and the cities without enough resources to approach all of the county’s road issues.
“We know we’ve got to figure something else out to get revenues for these streets locally,” Luiz said at the Clearlake City Council’s June 14 meeting, when the council initially discussed the countywide sales tax effort.
Based on a survey of several hundred county residents, there appears to be strong support for a sales tax measure for roads.
Approximately 68 percent of those polled said they would support such a measure. Responses from within the city of Clearlake polled even stronger for the tax. The statistical certainty of the polling was above 95 percent.
Polling on the sales tax measure proposal shows that people want the local roads fixed, said Dow. Road and pothole repairs were top priorities.
In his presentations to the councils and the supervisors, Dow pointed to another benefit of the measure; if Lake County were to pass a sales tax measure for roads, it would become a “self-help” county.
Dow said there are 22 self-help counties in California that have such measures in place. He said funds from Proposition 1B are set aside to provide matching funds for the projects those counties’ transportation sales tax measures fund.
He explained that research showed that a third of Lake County’s sales tax comes from visitors to the county, meaning that tourists would help fund the county’s road improvements should a road sales tax pass.
The Clearlake City Council had put off a decision at its June 14 meeting while it waited to see what further action the Board of Supervisors would take.
At the Lakeport City Council’s June 19 meeting, the council voted 3-1 to express its support for the proposal.
Councilman Roy Parmentier – who along with Mayor Stacey Mattina sits on the Area Planning Council – told his colleagues, “We need to back the county and the city of Clearlake.”
He said if they didn’t all pull on the “same end of the rope,” everyone in the county stood to lose out.
Councilman Tom Engstrom felt he was being rushed to a decision, questioning implementing new taxes during a recession.
He said they need money for the lake, roads and sewer improvements. “Where does it stop?”
Dow told the council that the discussions on the proposed measure had started last December, with polling taking place this spring after the Area Planning Council received money for polling.
Engstrom voted no because he said he felt the proposal was being rushed and he didn’t have all the information he needed. Councilmen Bob Rumfelt was absent.
Luiz cited Engstrom’s lack of support as a reason for not going with the countywide effort, saying that it needed the unanimous support of all elected officials involved.
“It only takes one council member with a large following to bring the points down,” said Luiz.
The Board of Supervisors, which hasn’t taken a vote yet to formally support the proposal, is set to discuss the matter again at its July 10 meeting.
The county cannot pursue such a sales tax on its own. With Clearlake now out of the regional effort, the county cannot move forward unless there is a possibility that it can partner with the city of Lakeport.
Email Elizabeth Larson at email@example.com .