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Tulum County Supervisors to Discuss Revenue Options, Cannabis, and Wildfire Preparedness

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Taxes, hemp and wildfire preparedness are among the topics that the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors will discuss at a public meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

County Administrator Tracy Riggs is scheduled to seek guidance from the board at some point during the meeting on whether he is interested in trying another ballot to increase the sales tax in the November 8 general election.

The board has long sought ways to boost county revenue through various tax measures, although most have failed overwhelmingly, as the latest attempt to increase the 1% sales tax was rejected by 70% of voters in the March 2020 election.

Riggs is seeking direction from the board of directors on another measure to increase the sales tax by 1%, the equivalent of 1 cent on every dollar spent, given that the county’s current revenue is not keeping pace with the growing demand for services.

“Unfortunately, district employee compensation continues to lag behind neighboring provinces and jurisdictions, resulting in unprecedented job vacancies and turnover rates,” Sarah Carrillo and Riggs’ adviser said in a publicly released employee memo with the agenda ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. “Furthermore, the demand for government services continues to increase.”

The memo continues to see increased demand for nearly all of the county’s services, including fire services, law enforcement, emergency response, behavioral health, homelessness, social programs, public health, development, housing, libraries, recreation, roads, and “more.”

The memo stated that increases in demand for such services are also causing a similar impact on county administration and partner agencies, such as the accounting, county counsel, county attorney, probation and attorney general.

The note stated that “the departmental equipment is outdated and dilapidated.” “Employees are driving vehicles and equipment that are well beyond their useful life. The county buildings have not been adequately maintained. For example, the administration building has been without heating for two weeks now.”

The memo also noted that property tax is the single largest source of revenue available to most counties for providing essential services, although Tulumen County’s ability to opt out is hampered by less than 25% of privately owned land.

According to the memo, government agencies that own property, such as the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, do not pay property taxes, and are exempt from transit occupancy tax collection.

If the board expressed interest Tuesday in another attempt to conduct the sales tax measure in November, the memo said County employees would then look to cooperate with the City of Sonora, as it also faces many of the same demands and needs.

The Board will also consider another form of generating more tax revenue during a presentation from an outside attorney scheduled for 10 a.m. in connection with the creation of the so-called Mello-Roos Community Facility Areas.

These zones are another way of levying a special tax on property owners, including developers, to help pay for public services and infrastructure. The Groveland Community Services District came under intense scrutiny last year over such a proposal.

Patricia Escher, partner at the San Francisco-based law firms of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, will present the idea to the board of directors. The task force memo stated that it has worked with several public bodies to shape such areas for more than a decade.

The board also has an appointment at 1:30 p.m. to consider moving forward with advisory measures in the November 8 election ballot to gauge how voters feel about allowing commercial cannabis cultivation and dispensaries within the county’s unincorporated area.

County voters have long supported state and local initiatives that ease restrictions on cannabis, which remains illegal at the federal level although most states now at least allow medical use of the drug.

About 52% of county voters supported Proposition 64 in 2016 that effectively legalized cannabis for recreational use in California, while nearly 62% supported Action M in 2018 that would allow the county to tax commercial sales and cultivation of the drug.

Commercial cannabis cultivation and dispensaries remain prohibited within the county’s unincorporated area, although dispensaries are allowed within the city of Sonora by ordinance passed by the city council in 2018.

A staff memo for the cannabis discussion on Tuesday indicated that the board would not owe the results of the advisory action.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, local fire and emergency agencies are scheduled to give a presentation to the council on the steps they are taking to prepare for the upcoming wildfire season.

The presentation coincides with California Wildfire Preparedness Week running Sunday through May 7, as well as National Wildfire Preparedness Day on May 7. There will also be information about a May 7 community event related to bushfire preparedness.

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