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If sheer enthusiasm and willpower could grease the skids of the political process, supervisors Joe Chimenti, Les Baugh and Steve Morgan will ensure that the proposal for a specific transactions and use tax is signed, sealed and delivered to Shasta County voters by March 2020.
Not that supervisors Leonard Moty and Mary Rickert didn’t appear supportive or receptive to the concept during the Tuesday morning Board of Supervisors meeting. It’s just, they had questions. Lots of questions. We’ll get to those in a minute.
First, you may recall last week when I reported on the public meeting at the Cascade Theater where Chimenti was the emcee at the scary-for-any-community “Seattle is Dying” screening, followed by three speakers, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett, Anderson Police Chief Mike Johnson, and emergency room physician and addiction expert Greg Greenberg. (You can read my story about that meeting here.)
Last week at the Cascade, the proposed specific transactions and use tax was touted as a way to provide more law enforcement, more jail beds, and the philosophy that incarceration could be the gateway to rehabilitation. No more revolving doors with the same criminals being arrested and released and arrested and released.
Last week Chimenti implored the approximately 400 audience members to attend the upcoming Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting and show support for the tax proposal.
For some time now Chimenti and fellow supervisor Steve Morgan have worked as members of the temporary ad hoc advisory committee that formulated the specific transactions and use tax proposal.
Tuesday, about 60 people attended the Board of Supervisors meeting; many of whom where county staff. There were plenty of empty seats.
A few citizens did speak, including Redding business owner Mimi Moseley, who said that in her 10 years in Redding, this was her first time to address the board. That’s how positively she felt about the proposed tax.
Moseley said she loves Redding and Shasta County, and doesn’t want to live anywhere else. She gave her full support of the tax, and said she believed it was worth it to improve public safety and quality of life.
Another Redding resident, Pam Hamar, who lives by Henderson Open Space and said she has RPD’s non-emergency number on speed-dial, said she’d attended the Cascade Theatre presentation and felt elated that finally, there was a solution she could get behind. She said she’d fought previous sales tax attempts put before voters because of the lack of transparency and accountability. She said she wasn’t willing to turn over her money to Redding to do whatever it wanted with it. But this new plan made her a believer.
“Finally someone sees the big picture,” she said of the current proposal. “We are Redding strong. We are not Seattle.”
Another woman said she’d not intended to speak, and that while she understands why citizens already feel overtaxed, she was 100 percent behind the proposed sales tax. She said she’d watched “Seattle is Dying” several times, and she’s convinced Redding is on the same path as Seattle, unless something is done to change things.
Yet another speaker said she supported the idea, too. She said that the current state of Redding affairs has caused her to change the way she shops, because she often feels unsafe. Her solution was to shop online, and she just recently became an Amazon member. She was curious whether she and fellow online-shopping citizens would inadvertently negatively impact the county’s sales tax potential.
One man – the only one to speak against the tax – complained about the “whack-a-mole” criminal system, and wasn’t so sure a sales tax was going to change anything.
Gary Cadd, former Redding City Council member, praised the plan as “getting it right”. He said, regarding some Redding citizens currently working on their own version of a sales-tax plan to put before Redding voters, “The city can just forget what they’re doing.”
Cadd said “the trick” to getting the required 66 percent of voter approval was to have complete accountability and transparency.
“It’ll pass 70/30,” he predicted.
Linda Cadd, Gary’s wife, also spoke, and said she liked this plan better than the previous sales tax proposals because the others – tax Measures D and E – were “too general”.
“Success will be because of transparency,” she said.
And that seemed the theme of the morning: accountability and transparency, and, added supervisor Baugh, “trust”.
“Everything you’ve presented fosters trust,” said Baugh to fellow supervisors Chimenti and Morgan.
Baugh said he and his family would be willing to even pay ten times the proposed tax, if that were possible. That’s something, coming from a supervisor whose city of Anderson voters passed a half-cent sales tax measure in 2014. Consider that if this new proposed specific tax plan is passed by Shasta County voters, then Anderson residents would pay another 1 percent on top of the half-cent they currently pay.
“I am willing to invest to save Shasta County,” Baugh said. “I believe absolutely that every voter deserves the right to vote on this.”
Baugh said that if the board engages in the action to proceed with putting the specific transactions and use tax on the ballot, the community will see the supervisors are doing everything they can to make things better.
Points to ponder
• A specific tax, such as the one proposed by supervisors Chimenti and Morgan, requires a two-third vote to pass. As Chimenti pointed out, that means roughly seven of 10 voters would have to approve the specific sales tax for its passage.
• Measure D, the 2016 ballot measure that had Chimenti’s full support as a general tax to help the community, only required a simple 50-percent-plus-one approval. Even so, voters rejected it.
• Measure E, simultaneously on the 2016 ballot, stipulated that if D passed, the money would be spent on public safety. That measure passed with flying colors. Basically, Redding voters turned their noses up at Measure D, anecdotally for being too general. Their approval of Measure E sent a clear message: Voters didn’t trust leaders with their money.
• Shasta County’s population is more than 179,000. If voters approved the the specific 1-cent sales tax, it’s projected to cost approximately $9.68 monthly or $116.20 yearly per person.
• Four of the five supervisors would have to approve putting the sales tax on the ballot for it to proceed.
• If approved as a ballot measure by the Board of Supervisors, the process can proceed without the blessing or approval of Shasta County city councils: Redding, Anderson and/or Shasta Lake. (Though the supervisors would prefer to have the county’s city councils fully on board.)
“Shasta County thriving . . . What’s it worth to you?”
Supervisor Chimenti presented the working title for the proposed specific tax as “Shasta County Thriving. What’s it worth to you?”
He cautioned that this tax was not a “cure-all”, but rather, a cash infusion, a way to leverage existing money and resources. Chimenti, who speaks often about not just his business background, but the number of law enforcement members in his family – including his son – pulls no punches with his message to the north state’s criminal, homeless and addicted populations:
“Get help, get home, or please, get out of Shasta County,” he said.
Supervisor Morgan said that although he hates to bring up taxes, sometimes they’re necessary for public safety. Regarding the approximate cost of less than $10 per person each month, that’s an amount Morgan thought was reasonable.
“It’s cheap insurance,” he said. “It really is.”
“That’s not an overpowering cost, when you consider the benefits,” Chimenti said.
Questions and concerns
At both last week’s public Cascade meeting and Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the message was one of hope, of finally offering a solution to deal with the addicted, the homeless and the criminals who roam north state streets.
But would this tax truly solve all those problems so we’d feel safe again? Behold, the questions and concerns.
• Supervisor Rickert asked Baugh about Anderson residents; how would they respond to yet another tax. Baugh replied that while the Anderson City Council hasn’t weighed in, he believed the average Anderson citizen would support the tax.
Chimenti added that he’d talked to two members of each city council, and all seemed supportive.
“I didn’t see any resistance,” he said.
• Supervisor Ricket asked how this specific tax would benefit and positively impact rural areas.”They need to know services will improve.” Chimenti assured Rickert that rural areas would receive benefits, such as 24-hour law enforcement services.
• Mary Rickert pointed out that according to the plan laid out for the specific tax, it called for 121 new hires. She observed that the county already has difficulty filling current openings. She said more people would need to be brought in to fill even more positions.
• Supervisor Rickert asked about the proposed work camp in the plan, and suggested the Breslauer area for an inmate farm. She spoke as a farmer, and extolled the virtues of hard work and accomplishment, which brought a round of audience applause.
• Supervisor Rickert asked how much an election would cost the public, to which county CEO Larry Lees guessed about $100,000. Chimenti said he was opposed to holding a stand-alone special election, that his preference was having multiple items on the ballot along with the sales tax proposal.
• Supervisor Moty asked “how specific” the specific tax would have to be. County Counsel Rubin Cruse said it varies from county to county, that some plans provide basic categories of money allocation, and yet others are more detailed and specific. Moty asked if, in the event Shasta County put actual percentages in various categories, if the county was locked in to those percentages. Cruse said yes.
• Supervisor Moty brought up the issue of jail beds, and because of the current laws, wondered how many people arrested would not be eligible to serve time in jail. Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett was called upon to answer that question and others. Bridgett said she believed the majority of arrested people would be “bookable”.
As an aside, Bridgett said she was hopeful about Keep California Safe (KeepCalSafe.com), a coalition of people working to pass the “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2020.”
• Supervisor Moty addressed the subject of jail bed numbers listed in the plan as around 500. Chimenti responded that the beds wouldn’t all be in one large building, but dispersed between the jail, a transitional facility, work camps and other places.
“I’m concerned we not build a 300- to 400-bed jail facility that’s not needed,” Moty said.
• Supervisor Moty expanded on Rickert’s earlier question and asked about the people – in the sheriff’s department, for example – projected for hire under the specific sales tax proposal. He asked Shasta County Undersheriff Eric Magrini to respond to the issue of hiring law enforcement staff.
Magrini said that getting enough qualified applicants continues to be a problem for his department. He cited an example of opening up some positions for hire. About 30 people committed to apply, and then 18 showed up, and in the end, just two to three applicants were acceptable.
“We need a slew of applicants,” Magrini said. “Are there that many qualified applicants? That remains to be seen.”
Magrini said it was already a struggle to fill the positions his department had available now.
Supervisor Moty, former Redding police chief, said what often happens is that Shasta County will hire and spend money to train qualified law enforcement applicants, but those people eventually move on to bigger cities – like Redding – with higher pay.
“We need to make it financially attractive for them to come and stay,” Moty said. “Not train, invest in people who leave.”
• Supervisor Moty wanted clarification about how exactly each department would handle the money gained from the tax, that it wouldn’t be akin to handing each department a blank checkbook.
Supervisor Chimenti responded that every agency would be responsible for coming up with an expenditured plan. Moty asked if money were given to a department, and it wasn’t being used properly – then what? Cruse said because the tax is an ordinance, improper use of the money could result in a criminal penalty.
After all the back and forth conversation, it was time to wrap things up. Chimenti expressed a desire to not lose momentum.
“I want this sense of urgency to go forward,” Chimenti said. “I want to put that stake in the ground.”
Moty said that while Chimenti and Morgan had been working on this for a while, this was the first the board was seeing it. He asked for time for the board and county staff to thoroughly look over the plan’s details. He suggested revisiting the issue the first supervisors meeting in August.
Morgan echoed Chimenti’s rush.
“We need an urgency or the public will think we’re dragging our feet,” Morgan said.
Supervisor Rickert speculated: What if the Redding City Council came up with its own tax plan first, to which Moty responded that it’s a citizens group, and they had a lot to do before getting to the stage of putting something on the ballot; signatures to gather first, etc., so the Redding group’s tax plan “wasn’t going to happen overnight”.
Moty reiterated the need for more time to study the plan. “Keep in mind, this is the first we’re seeing it.”
From there, the county’s executive officer, Larry Lees, described the process for moving forward; that a skeleton draft ordinance could be put together in time for the August meeting.
Chimenti said he’d like to see the proposed special tax on the ballot in March (but not as a special election).
Cruse said there were state and public processes and parameters that needed to happen first, too. Also, there must be at least 88 days between the board taking action to go forward with the specific sales tax, and getting the item on the ballot, which put the final actionable deadline around December. He responded to supervisor Baugh’s question about timing of having an initial actionable item on the August agenda. Cruse said it was possible with a skeleton ordinance.
Lees agreed, to which Chimenti asked if that was the “usual process”.
Lees paused. “That’s the legal process.”
That got some laughs.
And that was pretty much that.
Will all supervisors give full support? Will more citizens show up to speak? Will the Redding citizens group race to beat the supervisors to getting their tax on the ballot? Will Redding voters have two sales tax items on the March ballot? If voters approve it, will there be enough applicants to fill all the proposed positions outlined in the plan?
Either way, here’s the thing: Right now, north state citizens have had it with the crime and homelessness and addictions all around us, especially in public places. We’re fed up and looking for answers, and along comes this specific tax proposal. Will it really help? Are there enough “bookable” dangerous criminals to get off the streets? Will this tax make a dent in the issues of homelessness, addiction and mental illness? If passed, will it be $10 a month well spent, or a total waste of nearly 180,000 taxpayers’ money?
However, what if we do nothing? Supervisor Baugh had an opinion on that: “If we do nothing, nothing will happen.”
Meanwhile, stay tuned for the August Board of Supervisors meeting, which should be interesting.