Supervisors decide against educational campaign funding for special snow removal tax measure
Following public outcry and attorney advice, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors held off on funding an educational campaign surrounding a March ballot measure.
The El Dorado County Department of Transportation sought to use $40,000 in transient occupancy tax funds to distribute the facts on Measure M, a special tax for snow removal equipment acquisition that will appear on the March 2020 ballot.
Before the Tuesday, Jan. 7 meeting county counsel David Livingston recommended the board discontinue an item that would’ve approved the budget transfer, citing concerns “that some of the activities proposed in the agenda item constitute campaign activities for which public money cannot be spent,” according to county spokeswoman Carla Hass.
After Livingston’s guidance, the department changed course and asked the board to continue the item off calendar.
Taxpayer advocates said the potential expenditure would be a gross misuse of public funds.
“Fundamentally, we object to the government using taxpayer dollars to advocate to that voters approve even higher taxes,” wrote El Dorado County Taxpayer president Andy Nevis in a letter to the board. “Voters will receive ample information about Measure M, including supporting arguments in the official voter guide sent by the county elections office.
“Private individuals and entities — including county employees using their own time and money if they wish — can provide additional information and advocate for or against the measure. Voters do not need county government using their tax dollars to tip the scales.”
Originally the department said the money could be used for door hangers, fliers, newspaper publications, social media and internet advertising, according to the item.
Measure M, a special tax of $80 on each improved parcel of land in the south shore snow removal zone, would replace the existing $20 assessment for snow removal services in the areas in the zone.
A successful measure would generate approximately $544,000 annually for snow removal services.
Without the funding, south shore residents should expect “the continuation of the existing, inadequate funding level for the zone and a continued decline in snow removal services as equipment ceases to operate,” according to an item brought to the board in September.
About 54% of South Lake Tahoe/Meyers area residents are satisfied with their snow removal services, according to a survey from the Oakland-based consulting group FM3 Research. Just 13% said they were “very” satisfied.
The survey found that 74% of county residents thought that there was some or a great need for additional snow removal funding. About 64% of participants indicated that they were likely to support the measure after being presented with a potential ballot question, the data showed.
The current $20 snow removal service fee was established in 1983 and hasn’t increased since. In 2005 a measure that would have increased the service charge on each improved parcel in the zone to $50 failed to garner a two-thirds majority.