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Gary Smith: Measure V — Fire safety a priority

Gary Smith | Other Voices

Our Nevada County Board of Supervisors (BOS) has put Measure V, a sales tax increase on our November ballot. The approximately $12 million a year generated will go for urgently needed fire prevention and will be deposited into an account for wildfire prevention and disasters. This is a general sales tax not a special tax, the money is governed by general fund rules. The tax money can be used for any purpose the BOS desires, not just fire prevention. Oversight committees and auditing cannot change that, requiring us to trust our Supervisors not to divert the money to other uses. The Pew Research Center in June said only 1 out of 5 Americans trust the federal government to do what is right. I would hope our BOS trust rating would be better, but the deceptive language in Measure V making it sound like a dedicated special tax doesn’t inspire trust. People have not forgotten California’s Fire Prevention Fee fiasco from 2017 and how our California lawmakers betrayed our trust. A general sales tax requires a lower voter approval threshold to pass than a special tax, so I understand Nevada Counties motivation behind this strategy choice. But this strategy is a end run around the spirit of the law governing tax elections and is a disappointing ploy by our BOS.

There is a 10 year sunset clause for this tax. Can the county get this all cleaned up in 10 years? After 10 years where they started might need to be cut again or there will be new areas needing attention. In my lifetime temporary tax increases tend to become permanent the vast majority of the time, often without another vote by us.

This summer our California state government had a $97 billion dollar budget surplus, more than enough money to meet our fire prevention needs. The BOS 2022 Legislative Platform states in part they “would advocate for ongoing sustainable funding for wildfire mitigation projects and programs.” In spite of membership in the Rural County Representatives of California lobbying group, it appears that our BOS is not able to get enough state money to achieve these goals. Unfortunately the BOS Resolution for Measure V says little about their effort with the state or anywhere else. Why can’t our BOS tap into this surplus state money before California spends it like a sailor on leave? Measure V says in part “locally controlled funding that cannot be taken by the State.” That does not sound like Nevada County has a good relationship with the state.

Local schools, fire departments and cities are constantly coming to their citizens wanting financial help because our wealthy state government keeps heaping unfunded mandates on them. California ranks 48th out of 50 for state tax burden according to Prudential Financial, yet local governments struggle financially. My property tax bill already has the following additional assessment fees (taxes) added, The City of Grass Valley Fire Department, Grass Valley School District, Nevada County High School District and Nevada County Solid Waste. Let’s not forget the extra sales tax that Nevada County, Nevada City, Grass Valley and Truckee already collects from us right now. I have voted for some of these local taxes, but there seems to be no end in sight. The solution for fire prevention money is not another local tax, it is effective leadership in Sacramento that treats all of it’s citizens equally no matter where they live. Fire safety is a nonpartisan issue and we need our elected state leaders to step up in a much larger capacity, no matter what their party label is. They keep telling us that climate change is the cause of our increased fire danger. Show us leadership and money to combat these effects so we can reduce our unsafe fuel load.

Voting yes will raise our sales tax in Grass Valley to a whooping 9%, businesses like Home Depot in Auburn have a 7.25% percent sales tax. Raising our sales tax puts our local businesses at a further disadvantage on large purchases, we don’t want to make it harder for them to compete. There are many issues with shopping local, let’s not add another negative. With inflation at a 40 year high it makes little sense to make our cost of living any worse. Price increases effect our lower income residents the hardest, making them even closer to becoming homeless.

Vote for candidates that make our local fire safety a priority and vote No on Measure V.

Gary Smith lives in Grass Valley.


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