Road Tax Proposal Advances to County, Cities

Contractors work on Redwood Drive north of Redway in January. (Rip Kirby)

Contractors work on Redwood Drive north of Redway in January. (Rip Kirby)

Representatives of Humboldt County and most of its cities have agreed on the content of a half-cent sales tax measure for the November election to generate revenue for road repair and maintenance.

They also agreed that the measure’s language should include trails and transit infrastructure maintenance as eligible uses, along with local matches for federal and state transportation grants and retaining commercial airline service.

The concept of asking voters to approve the sales tax increase in the next election was supported by a majority of the Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG) board of directors at its June 16 meeting.

The measure’s placement on the ballot and a related spending plan will be reviewed by the association’s member jurisdictions and ultimately be approved by the county’s Board of Supervisors. If that’s done and the measure is approved by voters, it will generate an estimated $10 million a year in revenue.

The county unincorporated areas’ share would be $4.4 million a year.

Since the measure will propose that tax money be used for a specific purpose, it would need a two-thirds majority to pass. The measure’s proposed timespan is 20 years.

The decision to pursue the tax increase follows polling by a Los Angeles-based firm. The polling outcome shows that 69 percent of interviewed voters will support the measure, basically reaching a two-thirds threshold.

The condition of roads throughout the county is increasingly worrisome due to declines in gas tax revenue, the main source for funding for maintenance. The county has a $200 million road maintenance backlog.

But some members of the HCAOG board had concerns about how a transportation measure will affect other tax and fee measures in their cities.

Michelle McCall-Wallace, the City of Blue Lake’s HCAOG representative, agreed that the association should administrate a sales tax increase instead of the county. But she recommended looking beyond this November for putting it to a vote.

Representing the Humboldt Transit Authority, county Board of Supervisors Chair Mark Lovelace emphasized that the association’s board was only giving a go-ahead to the start of an approval process.

Eureka Mayor Frank Jager had doubts about the viability of including non-road elements such as maintaining commercial airline service.

But County Supervisor and HCAOG board Chair Ryan Sundberg said maintaining air service was strongly supported in the polling.

Some representatives also supported including language about maintaining bus service Lovelace said federal funding already covers that while the air service support comes from passenger fees, which he described as inadequate.

A majority of the HCAOG board approved two proposals. The first was to have the association administrate the tax and to place it on the next election ballot. A follow-up motion approving the proposed eligible uses and a spending plan for the tax revenue also gained majority support.

The county and the city councils will consider the tax measure proposal in their meetings throughout July. Then the HCAOG board will consider it and if approval is gained, the Board of Supervisors will vote on placing the measure on the ballot at its Aug. 9 meeting.