A ballot measure that would raise sales tax rates for the unincorporated communities of Kern County in hopes of strengthening public services is headed to the November election.
Tuesday, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to place the measure on the November ballot.
The measure will only be voted on by Kern County’s 305,000 unincorporated residents, which is the fifth-largest unincorporated population in the state, and if passed, the revenue will go solely to serve that demographic.
The measure will come in as a one-cent sales tax which would generate $54 million annually in tax revenue.
It comes at a time when the county faces a fiscal crunch due to the heavy sales and property tax concentration in the oil and gas sector that has slid recently due to state policies.
Kern County has seen a reduction of minus 64.3 percent in the assessed valuation of oil and gas properties.
State policies that have halted fracking and not issuing new oil well permits have cost the county over $500 million in the last 10 years.
The county has also seen a minus six percent reduction in total discretionary revenues over the past seven years with most new residential and commercial development taking place in incorporated cities.
That financial crunch has limited Kern County’s ability to invest in law enforcement, road infrastructure and the homelessness crisis.
In response, the county is moving forward with the resolution in order to increase funding for services in unincorporated areas to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, the Kern County Fire Department, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, the Probation Department, Code Enforcement, Parks and Recreation, Libraries and road infrastructure.
“Do we give our residents living in unincorporated areas in this county the opportunity to decide for themselves to choose what kind of costs they will incur as American citizens, as free thinkers? That is what really this moment is about,” said Supervisor Leticia Perez.
Supervisor Zack Scrivner discussed the unfortunate timing of raising taxes while gas prices and inflation are high, but the need to fund services in the county’s unincorporated areas wins out in the end.
“Over the last week I thought there’s a different way to look at timing,” Scrivner said. “You can look at timing and you can say that right now the situation with public safety is dire in this county, that the future unfortunately is grim if we continue down this path. And I believe it’s critical to do something now to help address the staffing in our public safety departments. Violent crime is up, and it’s up at unprecedented levels, and we hear that every day and I hear that from my constituents.”
Supervisor David Couch agreed with the need for funding for public services in the unincorporated areas, but he requested that the board place a 20-year sunset clause on the initiative.
“I believe it’s incumbent upon government to go back to the voters from time to time and make the case for why we are asking them to pay what they’re paying,” Couch said. “And this is an opportunity for us to do that.”
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood spoke out against putting a sunset on the measure.
“I absolutely believe by placing a 20-year sunset on this we’re setting up a board 20 years from now that are going to lay people off – it’s all relative, it doesn’t matter what the money is – but we’re going to be laying people off 20 years from now,” Youngblood said. “And more importantly than that, we’re trying to recruit and retain, and we can’t sell recruitment on a 20-year plan. This is a career that we’re trying to sell, and I would beg this board to not place a sunset.”
Couch was the lone vote in opposition to placing the initiative on the ballot. The measure needs a majority vote to pass in November.