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Price for wildfire safety: Nevada County contemplates ballot measure on half-cent sales tax

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled Aug. 9 to hold a public hearing before voting on whether to place a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot.

The proposed sales tax, which would require a simple majority to pass, would mainly fund efforts to reduce fuel loads and increase evacuation safety. If passed, it’s expected to raise some $12 million a year, Assistant CEO Caleb Dardick said.

A four-fifths vote of the supervisors is required to put the issue on the ballot. Discussion is set for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at the Eric Rood Administrative Center, 950 Maidu Ave., Nevada City.

“The No. 1 concern is evacuation safety,” Dardick said.

The unincorporated county’s sales tax is currently 7.5%.


The proposal stems from a work group formed by CEO Alison Lehman. It included city managers, first responders, law enforcement, community leaders and county staff. The group identified the county’s needs concerning fire safety, then looked at a sustainable funding source.

The group identified over 60 programs that would have cost an estimated $36 million a year to fund, Dardick said. It then whittled those down to six, with reducing fuel load and increased evacuation safety as the top priorities.

“We identified a countywide sales tax that we believe would raise $12 million per year,” he added.


Polling performed by the county shows widespread support for taking action, with some 65% in favor, Dardick said.

A sales tax for a special or specific purpose requires a two-thirds threshold to pass. A general purpose tax needs only a simple majority.

Dardick said this proposed tax would be general purpose, and enable the county to perform multiple functions. It could contract out the creation of large fuel break projects and work with law enforcement to reach homeless people who need to be moved from unsafe areas. A year-round green waste disposal site is another aspect.

“These are things that the county can do that can have a real impact on the community,” Dardick said.


Stuart Baker, executive director of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, said his board of directors has yet to decide its position on the proposed tax. However, he polled chamber members last week and has yet to receive a negative response. He urged any member who hasn’t yet contacted him to reach out.

The sales tax in Nevada City is currently 8.375%.

“We’re looking forward to making progress on an incredibly crucial issue,” Baker said.

Robin Davies, executive manager of the Grass Valley Downtown Association and Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, called the programs “absolutely essential and very, very worthy.”

However, Davies said she has concerns about the method to fund the efforts.

“The timing is dreadful with our gas tax being higher and inflation and an anticipated recession coming our way,” she said.

Grass Valley’s sales tax is currently 8.5%.

Davies also has concerns about the amount of time the public has to examine the sales tax proposal.

The chamber and downtown association are set to meet this coming Thursday to hear a presentation on the measure. It’s unknown if the boards will take a stance on the sales tax that day.

Alan Riquelmy is the managing editor of The Union. He can be reached at ariquelmy@theunion.com or 530-477-4249

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