Board to cops: Go fund yourselves

Ignoring funding pleas made by a host of local police and fire chiefs Tuesday, the Butte County Board of Supervisors declined to allow voters in November to decide whether to raise sales taxes in order to pay for public-safety programs.

The proposal, which would have declared a fiscal emergency and asked voters to approve a half-cent sales tax hike, first came up June 22, as the board was deciding to vote in a budget that includes painful cuts in public safety and social services. The roughly $11 million the tax would have raised annually was slated for police and fire services, which local chiefs say are underfunded as it is. But as dissenting Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi pointed out, there was no ironclad mechanism that made sure the money would go to those services. Instead, there was an advisory measure that went along with the increase naming public safety as a top budget priority.

“This is non-binding. This is a general tax,” Yamaguchi said. “That, to me, doesn’t say ‘public safety.'”

Yamaguchi and Richvale Supervisor Curt Josiassen, who are both opposed to taxes on ideological grounds, cast the dissenting votes. The ordinance, which included a two-year sunset clause, needed a four-fifths supermajority to pass. The measure would also have included a “poison pill” provision causing the tax to be rescinded should legislators in Sacramento vote to take more money from local governments in order to balance the state budget.

Speaking in favor of the ordinance were the police chiefs from Chico and Gridley/Biggs, Lt. Phil Serna from Paradise PD and Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff, along with fire chiefs from Chico, Paradise and the California Department of Forestry.

Speaking against the measure was Mike Kelly, president of the Butte County Taxpayers Association. Kelly directed his comments to outgoing Oroville Supervisor Bob Beeler, who was defeated in the last election mainly because he voted to raise county service fees.

“There’s a difference between a lame duck and a dead duck,” Kelly warned, adding that he hoped “District 1 is not for sale again.”

Also against the tax proposal was Casey Aplanalp, chairman of the Butte County Libertarian party.

“Eleven million—that’s a lot of dough,” Alpanalp said. “If my wife and I have to spend $10,000 in a year, that’s 50 bucks. I’d rather not spend 50 bucks. I’d rather buy groceries or something.”

When reached for comment after the meeting, Sheriff Perry Reniff said he was “very disappointed” in the decision. Already, he said, there are often times when only three deputies are available to police an area of approximately 800 square miles.

“I really think we’re heading for dire straits,” Reniff said. “The crisis will really hit us next year—we’re in a crisis now, for that matter.”

Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty said he was “disappointed and a little bit shocked” that the board would not allow voters to decide on the sales tax proposal.

"I think the voters would have decided in favor of it," he said. "The dissenting [supervisors] did not say they were concerned that their constituents were against it; it just seemed that they were personally against it."