Playing the ballot: Local measures propose raising taxes for libraries and firefighting, but will Sacramento County voters bite?

Local measures propose raising taxes for libraries and firefighting, but will Sacramento County voters bite?

A parcel tax renewal to benefit the library. A controversial marijuana tax to fund youth services. A city charter amendment regarding the day elected officials take office. A tax to subsidize firefighting services in Isleton.

Those in the city of Sacramento will decide on three key measures June 7; meanwhile, Isleton voters face a vote that may impact their safety. Except for the charter amendment, each initiative needs the support of at least two-thirds of voters.

Here’s what you need to know about each before casting a ballot next month:

Measure X: While the general fund helps finance the city’s 12 library branches, more than a third of its funding—$5 million a year—comes from a restricted $31.53 parcel tax that Sacramento voters accepted in 2004. That tax is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2017.

Enter Measure X, which would do two things: extend the tax by 10 years and expand what it can be spent on. Right now, the tax money can only buy “additional” library services, meaning none of the basics that include paying salaries, acquiring books and other media, funding programs for youth and seniors, etc.

Measure X would change that.

But if the initiative fails to win favor with a super-majority of voters, the library system, which also cobbles funding from other sources, would suddenly be faced with a large deficit.

“Measure X keeps us whole,” said Sacramento Public Library Director Rivkah Sass.

There is no formal opposition to Measure X, which won’t affect Measure B, a $12 parcel tax that voters approved in 2014 to raise $1.9 million annually for library services. Sass said that, ideally, she would like the city to solidify library funding beyond these ballot initiatives.

Measure Y: In February, the Sacramento City Council approved marijuana cultivation in Sacramento. Then came the controversial part.

Measure Y would tax cultivation and manufacturing at a 5 percent rate and steer that money—projected to be $5 million a year—toward youth services like after-school programs and sports. The measure’s author, Councilman Jay Schenirer, said 85 percent of the tax would go to programs and services for youth, the majority provided by nonprofits. Schenirer founded his own youth nonprofit, WayUp Sacramento, in 2011. Ten percent would cover administration costs and the rest would go toward evaluating the programs. By contrast, Schenirer said the city dedicates just 1 percent of its general fund to youth.

But the funding scheme has its detractors.

Councilman Jeff Harris argues that the city spends closer to 6 percent on youth programs and that a looming budget deficit makes it unwise to limit the city’s spending ability. “I don’t think it’s fiscally sound policy to take a new revenue source and lock it up in perpetuity,” he said.

Sacramento Children’s Home director Chris McCarty said he understands arguments against Measure Y, but contended that kids have long been an afterthought when it comes to government spending. “If we don’t secure funding for our most vulnerable population, it unfortunately is one of the first things to be cut,” he said.

Measure Z: Under Sacramento City Charter Section 153, elected officials take office the fourth Tuesday following the first Monday in November the year of their election. However, California Elections Code 15372 mandates that county registrars be given 30 days to certify vote results.

Measure Z is a housekeeping item that would amend the charter so elected officials are sworn in at the final meeting in December the year they’re elected. City Clerk Shirley Concolino called the measure “kind of an administrative thing to fix a gap.” It has no public opposition.

Measure B: In the tiny city of Isleton, paramedic Hailie Schuster gets paid in sleep.

Isleton’s fire department has only one paid firefighter and a team of volunteers, including Schuster, who commutes from Nevada and responds to calls in exchange for sleeping at the station.

If a super-majority of local voters approve it, Measure B would levy a half-percent transactions and use tax for Isleton residents, generating an estimated $90,000 annually. That would allow the fire department to purchase more equipment and potentially hire a part-time employee.

“I don’t think there’s a department out there that doesn’t need a bigger budget for equipment and stuff,” Schuster said.

Volunteer planning commissioner Jack Chima opposes the tax increase, saying this one “is not going to be enough to solve all the problems of the fire department.”

Those problems could eventually fall to Sacramento County, which contracts out its sheriff’s department since Isleton currently has no police department.