No sales tax hike for El Dorado County on November ballot | TahoeDailyTribune.com

No sales tax hike for El Dorado County on November ballot

Mackenzie Myers
Mountain Democrat

El Dorado County voters won't see a half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot, after all.

After a lively conversation at their June 26 meeting, the county Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to leave the tax — a "self-help" measure if the state's 2017 gas tax is repealed — off the ballot for now. Supervisors Shiva Frentzen, Brian Veerkamp, Michael Ranalli and Sue Novasel approved the item. District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl cast a no vote.

The half-cent tax would have increased sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.75 percent, bringing in $6.5 million annually for the next 20 years. The tax and its use for road repair would only apply to unincorporated areas of the county.

Department of Transportation Director Rafael Martinez first brought up the idea for a sales tax increase at the board's June 12 meeting. There, Martinez outlined what could happen to county road funding if the gas tax, also known as Senate Bill 1, were to be voted away this fall.

SB 1 aimed to bring $50 billion to the state for maintaining roadways over the next 10 years, Martinez said June 26. To reach that goal, state residents have paid 12 to 18 cents more per gallon for gas, vehicle license fees have increased 50 to 300 percent and electric vehicle owners have paid a fee.

Martinez said the county has about $128 million in deferred road maintenance over the next 10 years. With SB 1 funding, deferred maintenance would sit at $98 million in ten years. If that funding goes away, deferred maintenance will rise to $205 million.

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These numbers only apply to road maintenance, Martinez said, not other types of projects the transportation department maintains such as guardrails, culverts, ditches, signs, bridges and the like.

Martinez showed a graph illustrating the state of road funding in the last 20 years. Since the 1990s, road money from the state's general fund has dwindled from $2 million per year to almost nothing. Funds from the Federal Highway Administration have sat steadily at just less than $2 million and the state's gas tax has provided the bulk of road funds, with an increased budget projected for the 2020s.

"The funding from the state of California just isn't enough," Martinez said. "Construction costs have doubled and funding has been cut in half."

Despite Martinez's outline of the situation, some supervisors vehemently opposed the sales tax measure.

"You cannot tax your way out of a foundationally broken transportation problem," District 4 Supervisor Ranalli said. "I think the (self-help) tax is wrong, I think SB 1 is going to get repealed and I think we need to invest in some gravel."

Frentzen, supervisor for District 2, asked what would happen to projects if SB 1 went away. Martinez replied the projects would stop and sit unfinished.

There was little weigh-in from the public on the issue but Kris Payne, former county employee and president of the El Dorado County Historical Society, felt it was an inappropriate time to ask voters to approve the sales tax hike.

El Dorado Chamber of Commerce CEO Laurel Brent-Bumb suggested it may be better to wait and let voters see the impact of an SB 1 repeal for themselves, then consider bringing a sales tax increase back in 2020.

"To me, if something had to stop for a little while, that's ammunition for getting that sales tax passed," Brent-Bumb said. "I would ask you to have that arrow in your quiver, but please do not put that on the November ballot."

At this point, Board of Supervisors clerk Jim Mitrisin said staff will wait to see what happens to SB 1 in November and likely return to the board with more information early next year.