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Poll: Taxpayers feel money is ill spent

Nevada County residents give the Board of Supervisors high marks, but are dissatisfied with how tax money is spent in the county, according to a recent Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. poll.

The seemingly contradictory results are contained in a California Currents survey conducted by PG&E between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1, when it queried 5,250 residents in its 24-county service territory.



In Nevada County, 200 registered voters were surveyed, said PG&E community relations officer Robert Fratini. No margin of error was provided by the utility, which conducts the survey on a regular basis.




The Board of Supervisors earned a “strong favorable” opinion from 18 percent and a “somewhat favorable” rating from 37 percent of residents surveyed.

On the other hand, the board received an 18 percent “strong unfavorable” rating and “somewhat unfavorable” marks from 7 percent of the residents surveyed, while 20 percent indicated no opinion.

When asked if spending tax money properly is a “very” or “somewhat” important issue, 87 percent said it was “very” important, making it the most significant of the 14 county issues the survey evaluated.

“Tax money was the No. 1 issue in all 24 counties polled, so Nevada County is not alone in that regard,” Fratini said.

Only 15 percent of residents surveyed, however, think tax money is being spent properly in Nevada County; 80 percent say tax dollars are “ill spent.”

The five other issues identified as most important include resolving the state’s energy crisis (84 percent), keeping electric rates affordable (84 percent), improving the state economy (79 percent), improving health care services (75 percent), and providing adequate water supplies (72 percent).

So why did Nevada County residents surveyed give the Board of Supervisors overall high marks, but say they were dissatisfied with how tax dollars are being spent?

“Surveys are good, but they can be misleading,” Fratini said. “Many respondents may be influenced by state and federal spending and the spending of tax money in general.”

Supervisor Peter Van Zant agreed with Fratini’s interpretation that survey respondents support the supervisors, but are dissatisfied with government spending in general.

“I would read that as a concern with the overall tax and spending issue, since 70 percent of our budget comes from state and federal sources,” Van Zant said. “We don’t have enough road money here; we don’t have enough public safety money. That’s why we’ve been lobbying the state for more money with less strings attached.”

All governments are funded by tax dollars, Fratini said, “so what the survey is saying is that it’s an important issue to Nevada County residents about how their tax dollars are spent at all levels – local, state and federal.

“I’m not saying the board is immune to that response, but that it’s something the board needs to consider.”

It’s difficult to get into the minds of respondents and try to separate their understanding of how taxes are spent and where their concerns lie, said Supervisor Sue Horne, who had a different take on the survey’s findings.

“I think what people are saying is that they’re unhappy with how tax dollars are spent and that could be at a local, state or federal level,” Horne said. “We can’t arbitrarily say they’re just talking about the state and federal level.”

Half as many Nevada County residents are satisfied with the proper spending of tax money as respondents in the rest of PG&E’s service territory, according to the survey.

Horne said there is a heightened level of awareness in Nevada County about how tax dollars are spent.

“I don’t think we can just isolate that concern at a state and federal level,” she said. “To take one stat and try to make it mean what we want it to mean – I’m not willing to do that. It is what it is.”

Demographics of survey respondents

– Age: Three percent of respondents were 18-29; 9 percent were 30-39; 20 percent were 40-49; 34 percent were 50-64; and 34 percent were 65 and over.

– Ideology: 47 percent of respondents consider themselves conservative; 31 percent moderate; 16 percent liberal; and 6 percent didn’t know their ideology.

– Political affiliation: 34 percent of respondents were Democrats; 48 percent were Republicans; 7 percent specified “other”; and 10 percent declined to answer.

– Environmentalism: 21 percent of respondents consider themselves strong environmentalists; 38 percent moderate environmentalists; and 41 percent do not consider themselves environmentalists.

– Source: PG&E


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