Measure G proposes a hike in sales tax of one-half cent per dollar spent in the unincorporated areas of the county. The measure was put on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the CountyBoard of Supervisors. A key argument of county budget officials proposing the increase is because about half of the county’s residents live in unincorporated areas, primarily in Live Oak, Aptos and San Lorenzo Valley, the county provides a good number of municipal services usually provided by incorporated cities-and the county needs to catch up with the sales tax revenues collected in the four incorporated cities to provide “critical unmet needs” in the unincorporated areas.
If approved by the voters, the half-cent increase will bring the total sales tax in the unincorporated areas to 9 percent, which is the current sales tax rate in Capitola and Scotts Valley, with the City of Santa Cruz and the City of Watsonville already at 9.25 percent.
In a staff report to supervisors proposing the ballot measure back in August, County Administration Officer Carlos Palacios wrote, “Despite good fiscal stewardship, including increasing reserves and improving credit ratings, lowering pension liabilities and maintaining prudent staffing levels, the County still has critical unmet needs that require funding strategies to provide for the general welfare.”
The half-cent sales tax increase in unincorporated areas is expected to raise $5.75 million per year for the county’s General Fund, and is proposed to last 12 years. As a “general tax”, the ballot measure requires 50 percent plus one vote approval by voters to be approved. Measure G is on the ballot for all voters in Santa CruzCounty, although it will only apply to sales transactions in the unincorporated areas.
One the “critical unmet needs” is mental health crises intervention to assist county sheriffs with street-level psychiatric emergencies. Sheriff Jim Hart spoke to the Board of Supervisors at their August 7 meeting on the drastic need for more resources and targeted response to mental health emergencies. According to Hart, deputy sheriffs are called to deal with mental health emergencies an average of 10 times every day.
Called the Focused Deterrence Initiative, the program is aimed at “a small subset of clients (who) remain resistant to services…(and) would match law enforcement with behavioral health treatment professionals through a team approach that brings focused, intensive resources to those in need and impact on public safety,” according to the CAO’s staff report. This “team approach” will require up to eight new professional staff in the Sheriff’s Office and Health Services Agency, costing an estimated $1 million annually.
“There is a population of people in our county and four cities who refuse treatment and help. Their actions close businesses and scare people. This team will work with the courts, district attorney, public defender, the county health agencies and the corrections system to get these people off of the street and into an environment where they can get the help they need and stop the behavior that is harming our community,” Sheriff Hart wrote in an email to the Press Banner.
Another “critical unmet need” is identified as year-round, 24-hour emergency shelters and service centers for the homeless in both North and SouthCounty. The recent closure of the River Street Camp, and a reduction by half of the number of emergency shelter beds available for winter shelter, exemplifies the need for permanent facilities. The county currently funds an emergency winter shelter program shared between the HomelessServiceCenter and the Veterans of Foreign Wars facility in Live Oak, at a cost to the County of $290,000. A permanent, year-round emergency homeless shelter is estimated to cost between $765,000 and 880,000 for 150 beds. The 2017 Homeless Census and Survey put the number of homeless in Santa CruzCounty at 2,249 persons.
The balance of the county’s “critical unmet needs” is funding for county parks, funding expected to be leveraged to “unlock” other grants, loans and private sector funding for several “big ticket” capital improvement projects planned at several county parks. These include a $1.125 million commitment by the county to match $2.5 million in private-sector grants and donations to build “LEO’s Haven” at ChanticleerPark- a fully accessible “all-inclusive” playground especially designed for wheel-chair bound, disabled and special needs children.
Other capital projects to be funded include renovating aging pool infrastructure at the SimpkinsFamilySwimCenter at an estimated cost of $1.35 million, and $530,000 for a linear parkway adjacent to Heart of Soquel Park connecting Soquel Creek with SoquelVillage and SoquelElementary School. About $400,000 in funding is also designated for the development of the FeltonDiscoveryNaturePark, an outdoor nature education park planned adjacent to the new library in Felton.
The County’s Auditor-Controller, Edith Driscoll, wrote the fiscal impact statement for Measure G included in Sample Ballot and Voter Information Guide. Driscoll makes clear the county currently receives only one percent (1 cent) of the current 8.5 percent sales tax rate for county operations, with fully six percent (6 cents) forwarded to the State’s General Fund, with the balance of the revenues designated for transportation and library funding. A half-cent increase in the sales tax will all go directly to the county, providing 50 percent more funding for county operations than is currently received from sales taxes.