Terry Lamphier: Questions about Grass Valley’s new tax proposal
February 16, 2018
In June, voters will decide whether to repeal Grass Valley's existing temporary tax and replace it with a permanent one twice as big.
Proponents assure us that the funds will be used for more police and fire personnel and road improvements, with oversight by local citizens. Before you open your wallets, consider the following:
It is a "general tax," meaning the money can legally be used for anything, and can be passed by a small majority of voters — a low barrier that enables council to use your money with little constraint, versus a special tax that is required to be used for its stated purpose.
The city has a history of promising one thing and delivering another. Research the history of the (now defunct) Redevelopment Agency and its millions in street improvement bond funds that were instead used (incorrectly, according to the California State Department of Finance) for the Dorsey interchange and are still being paid back by taxes you pay now.
Don’t we deserve clear and transparent answers from tax proponents before we commit millions in new taxes indefinitely?
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Tax measure proponents argue that there will be citizen oversight. Who makes up the oversight committee, how are they selected and whose interests do they represent? Are they subject to "open meeting," "noticing the public" and other requirements of the Brown Act? Does it consist of critics as well as cheerleaders? Are any of them qualified to look beyond immediate costs/benefits to understand long term ramifications?
How does citizen oversight work when there is no legal definition for how funds are to be used? How do they say, "that's not OK" when everything is legally permissible? And if the oversight committee says "no" to a proposal, are council members bound by oversight committee decisions or are the decisions strictly advisory? How powerful is this unelected body with oversight over millions of dollars?
Proponents says taxes will be used to hire more police and fire personnel, while our police chief has testified to the council that crime is not increasing and no one has made a case that we are under served with fire protection. Where are our fiscal conservatives on this issue?
The 10 additional police and fire personnel that have already been hired with existing Measure N tax revenue already obligates Grass Valley taxpayers to pay huge retirement pensions (and health coverage?) for decades. Pensions already put a huge strain on government budgets, money that would otherwise be available for parks, homeless and addiction programs, etc. Has this been considered by proponents?
Proponents argue that additional police and fire personnel will combat loitering and homeless camps. Is this the best way to spend public funds to address these issues? Will the new taxes pay for increased court and jail costs caused by increases in arrests that will further clog our overburdened court system — all the while reducing funds available for other public services (see above)?
Will the new taxes be used for new police surveillance technology, as proposed to council by our police earlier this year?
City officials have argued that we are already losing huge amounts of tax revenue to the Auburn area businesses. Will higher taxes further challenge local businesses trying to keep shoppers from driving "down the hill"?
Proponents argue that the new tax can be changed or dropped by voters at a later time. How does that work?
There may be very good answers to the questions posed above.
Don't we deserve clear and transparent answers from tax proponents before we commit millions in new taxes indefinitely?
Proponents, please answer these questions before we vote, thanks.
Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley.
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