If the Crescent City Harbor District does decide to pursue a tax measure to pay down its debt and increase revenue, it likely won’t go before voters until the November 2018 election, Commissioner Brian Stone told his colleagues at a special meeting held Tuesday.
Stone said he met with a representative of SCI Consulting Group, which helps public agencies establish and administer taxes. The price for the consulting firm to put together a survey to determine if the public would be receptive to either a sales tax increase or a property tax assessment would cost about $35,000 and take roughly four months, Stone said.
“He needs more direction from our board,” Stone said. “He said he needs to know whether it’s going to be a sales tax or an assessment and which area or avenue we are interested in going out.”
Although the item was not agendized, commissioners spent about 45 minutes discussing the pros and cons of a citizens initiative as well a two-part measure where voters would pass a tax and then cast an advisory vote on how it should be used. The harbor board also discussed the possibility of forming a coalition with other special districts to place a tax measure on the ballot and if it’s successful divvy up the revenue among themselves.
The harbor commission has been striving to address a $498,000 deficit and pay down a $5.3 million debt left behind by tsunamis in 2006 and 2011. Several areas of the port, including Citizens Dock and Whaler Island Groin, are also in need of repairs.
Stone said the consultant from SCI told him if the harbor board chose to pursue a sales tax measure it would need approval from the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors to place it on the November 2018 ballot. If commissioners decided on a special property tax assessment, a resolution would be necessary to place an initiative before voters, Stone said.
Harbor board President Ron Phillips said he had spoken with the port’s counsel, Bob Black, who suggested the port take out a full page newspaper ad outlining its financial troubles and the various avenues it is exploring to address them.
“I want to be transparent with the public,” Phillips said. “I want them to know what’s going on so when we get it on the ballot they have an idea of it — it just helps us.”
Phillips said he wasn’t in favor of spending $35,000 on a consultant to conduct a survey.
Black also brought up the idea of putting a transient occupancy tax increase on the ballot as a two-part initiative, Phillips said. He pointed out county residents would vote on the TOT tax increase and then weigh in on how that extra revenue should be used.
“Now, that’s not law,” Phillips said, referring to the advisory vote on a potential two-part TOT tax measure. “It’s not enforceable, but as (Black) said it’s political suicide if it passes at 60 percent and the (tax) passed at 50-plus-1 and as a supervisor I’m going to sit up there on the podium (and say) I think it should go to the general fund. I like that idea.”
Commissioner Wes White, who has been working with Stone on exploring the various options for increasing revenue, proposed bringing them before the harbor board in a chart for them to decide on. He also proposed holding a public meeting to get community input.
On Monday, Stone told the Triplicate one option the harbor had been exploring for increasing revenue was to pursue a sales tax increase similar to Measure F, the 2014 initiative that kept the Del Norte County Fairgrounds operational. That .25 percent sales tax increase generates between $670,000 and $725,000 for the fair but requires a two-thirds majority vote.
Stone also brought up a $36 per-property assessment that could generate $727,000 for the harbor.
When it came to forming a coalition of special districts to fund a tax measure, Stone said he wasn’t sure if that would solve the harbor’s financial problems.
In other matters, the harbor board voted 4-0-1 in favor of an amended ordinance that establishes a rent for fishermen storing their crab pots in the harbor. Commissioner Pat Black was absent.
Under the ordinance, crab fishermen renting a berth would be able to store their pots at the harbor for free for 30 days before the season started and 30 days after it ended. Following that time period, the harbor would charge a monthly storage fee of $150, or 20 cents per square foot.
The ordinance also allows the harbormaster to “red tag” any equipment that isn’t marked properly and issue an exemption to the crab pot storage fee if the California Department of Fish and Wildlife delays the season or if the crab fishing industry as a whole is on strike.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org.