Transportation Sales Tax Gains Supes’ Support

Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors has approved a plan to place a countywide transportation sales tax measure on the November ballot, with the Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG) administering the revenue.

At their July 5 meeting, supervisors unanimously supported a plan to have HCAOG be the lead agency in advancing a 20-year, half-cent sales tax that’s estimated to generate $10 million a year in revenue for road repairs, trail and transit infrastructure maintenance, providing local matches for state and federal grants and retaining airline service.

HCAOG’s board of directors is made up of county and city government leaders and serves as the transportation agency for the county’s unincorporated areas and its cities. At its meeting last month, HCAOG’s board supported the ballot measure plan, which is in the process of being considered by each of the agency’s municipal members.

The plan includes a revenue sharing agreement and during a public comment session at the supervisors meeting, Blue Lake resident Kent Sawatsky questioned why the City of Eureka’s share of 32.5 percent of the annual revenue falls below the county’s 43 percent share when the city has the greatest share of the tax base.

“There’s a little disparity there,” Sawatsky continued, adding, “I think we should save our minimum amount of taxation that people will put up with for other matters.”

Supervisor Virginia Bass, whose district includes Eureka, acknowledged that many people have those concerns but “this isn’t all about roads — it’s also about other forms of transportation.”

Supervisor Ryan Sundberg represents the county on HCAOG’s board. He noted that the agency’s board members negotiated the spending plan and smaller cities are each guaranteed a base amount of $50,000 plus individual revenue shares.

Sundberg added that Eureka Mayor Frank Jager supports the plan and “it’s ultimately up to the people of Humboldt County whether or not they want to pay a little more for roads and transportation.”

HCAOG’s Blue Lake and Fortuna representatives questioned the timing of the proposed tax measure at the agency’s meeting last month. Board Chair Mark Lovelace said that Blue Lake Mayor Michelle McCall-Wallace now supports the plan along with the city’s council.

“But ultimately, as noted, it’s a question of whether we want to put this out to the voters — and the voters don’t get to answer that question if we don’t give them the opportunity,” he continued. “It’s direct democracy.”

A sales tax would help address countywide road maintenance backlogs. County government has a growing backlog of over $200 million.

Another reason for pursuing a transportation sales tax is the state’s development of a new law that sets aside funding for counties designated as “self-help counties” through passage of local sales tax measures.

Supervisors unanimously approved the HCAOG-led ballot measure plan. HCAOG’s other municipal members will consider the plan throughout this month before the agency approves it.

Once those approvals are gained, the Board of Supervisors will vote on placing the measure on the November election ballot at its Aug. 9 meeting.