by Lou Binninger
In 2018, County Administrator (CAO) Robert Bendorf and the Yuba County Supervisors made a determination to seek a 1% sales tax increase to “save public safety.” The scheme to sell the increase as a public safety tax but then put it on the ballot as a general fund tax has undermined the credibility of the Board of Supervisors and the county administration.
The supervisors’ excuse that they would put this measure on the ballot and “let the people decide” was a “heads I win and tails you lose” ploy. They played the citizens and/or they followed their CAO’s deceptive lead.
The entire media campaign from multiple fliers designed to instill fear, public safety town hall meetings, fire and law enforcement themed signs, the sheriff chairing the campaign committee and the ballot ordinance itself shouted public safety is suffering, there is not enough money and we guarantee the money will go for public safety.
Bottom line, it was another “give us more” campaign touted with guarantees but it was all a mirage.
Up until the 1990s county general funds were sufficient to take care of law enforcement and fire needs. Then after the jail expansion in the early 1990s Sheriff Gary Tindel contracted out beds to the federal government and millions of dollars came to the county annually. The excess revenues over costs were a cash cow that supervisors had control over. The monies were fungible, produced by law enforcement, but could be directed anywhere in the county by supervisors and they were.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, supervisors saw more money than ever before and began to raise salaries, even retroactively to the date of hire. That spiked salaries and pensions tremendously. In union negotiations supervisors would even pay the employee share of pension contributions. (In the private sector, employees normally pay for their own pensions.)
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) money began to be known as ICE “Crack” around the sheriff’s department making an analogy to the addictive quality of the drug “Crack” cocaine. County administration was living above its means, salaries and pensions had been spiked, supervisors’ salaries were doubled, ICE and sheriff’s funding diverted for other uses and then the 2006-7 housing crash occurred.
County leaders so overcommitted the budget that it was now a disaster. The final straw would have been losing the ICE contract which today brings in over $6 million a year and funds a much bigger jail operation than needed for just local inmates. However, the county can’t live without it.
Supervisors had diverted monies from public safety and now were short. From the housing crash to the 2019-20 budget though revenues increased, the costs of pensions and health insurance devoured revenues due to financial guarantees made in high times. The unfunded pension liability had now become a threat to all county services.
Although Measure K advocates celebrated their devious triumph of 53% at the polls Superior Court Judge Stephen Berrier invalidated the measure saying it needed the higher win margin (2/3s of vote) being a special tax versus a general tax.
The additional 1% tax began being charged in April 2019 while the court fight over K proceeded. And, though Berrier agreed with the plaintiffs (opponents of the tax) Yuba County is appealing the ruling. The tax (millions of dollars) will continue to be collected which the average person believes should never have been assessed in the first place while the measure was being legally contested.
Should Measure K be invalidated upon appeal the money will still go to Yuba County coffers. Citizens and their monies have been entrapped by this illegal tax and it is to the government’s advantage to stretch out the appeal process because the jurisdiction benefits in the end win or lose.
Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars were illegally squandered paying for a campaign to deceptively convince voters to assess themselves more taxes. This is in violation of people’s freedom of speech according to both the Federal and State Constitution. Citizens paid for the campaign against them, paid the tax, paid the county’s hired attorneys and will lose the taxes assessed even if they win the case against Measure K.
The 2019-20 budget has now been passed with additional funding going to public safety without a cent of Measure K tax. So why was Measure K needed?
If you ever wondered why the founding fathers hated and feared big government this is why.
(Get Lou’s podcast at “No Hostages Radio” and his articles at nohostagesradio.com)