Tax hike no quick fix for budget shortfall

January 20, 2002 11:00 pm

Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

The idea of implementing a quarter or half cent sales tax to help balance this years budget for Del Norte County is not possible, according to several county officials.

All measures like that have to be passed with a two-thirds vote of the people, said Del Norte County Clerk Vickie Frazier. She added the earliest a vote could happen is November and a tax approved then wouldnt be collected until January 2003.

If they (the Board of Supervisors) started now, they could get it on the next ballot...Its a complicated process, Frazier said.

The idea cropped up as one solution to the countys $1.7 million deficit during recent arguments between county administrators and the county employee unions.

After the county proposed to cut all employees salaries in an effort to fill the budget hole, employees balked and suggested boosting the sales tax instead.

Nan Udell, a family support office attorney who is running for county District Attorney, was researching whether a tax could be added for a year without a vote.

In a public meeting last Tuesday, Family Support employee Kathleen Heartman said Udell found the county could add the tax now.

She researched it and said it doesnt need a vote and it can be done for one year without putting it on the ballot, Heartman said.

Yesterday, Udell declined to comment on her findings due to the current state of negotiations between the county and the union.

Both county counsel Bob Black and Frazier said Prop. 218 and Prop. 62, previously passed by California voters, deny local governments the power to increase sales tax without a vote.

Christie Babich, Del Norte County Auditor/Controller said even if a tax increase was put on the November ballot, she could not count on it passing and she couldnt borrow against it to solve this fiscal years problems.

Weve had two that failed already, Babich said.

The issue of whether a tax could be added to save employees salaries from cuts is reportedly stalemating the negotiation process between the union and county administration.

Both the Del Norte County Employees Association and the sheriffs employees association said they have hired attorney Edward Fishman to sue the county for an injunction.

No such suit has been filed as of noon Friday, however.