Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

In a 4-1 vote, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors recently supported Proposition 6, which asks voters to overturn Senate Bill 1 (The Road Repair and Accountability Act). SB1 added taxes to gasoline and diesel fuels and increased DMV fees, starting last November.

Supervisor Roger Gitlin opened his prepared statement Tuesday by noting that Senate Bill 1 raised the price of gas 12 cents per gallon and the price of diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon and raises Department on Motor Vehicle fees, as well.

“The passage of Proposition 6 will place the responsibility of roads back in your hands, the voter,” Gitlin said.

Gitlin said three out of four (75 percent) local motorists drive to Brookings for cheaper fuel and goods, causing an impact on local stations and a loss of local tax revenue.

“A statewide poll shows 58 percent of Californians oppose SB1,” Gitlin said, adding that in 2010, the state transferred $1.8 billion in gas taxes to the general fund, as an example of abuse he feels will continue.

Gitlin said he voted to approve SB1 but now regrets that vote, having researched the impacts on residents. He then offered a motion for the board to support Proposition 6 and send that sentiment to the state legislation and Gov. Jerry Brown.

Supervisor Bob Berkowitz also read a statement saying while the 12 cent per gallon increase and a $100 per year increase in vehicle registration seems a modest cost to fix deteriorating roads.

“Unfortunately, when we look beneath the surface and get into the details of the plan, that rosy picture of repaired roads is not so rosy at all,” he said.

Berkowitz noted the tax was not passed by a vote of the people.

He said of area county highway projects funded in 2016 by SB1, Del Norte County received nothing. He said Del Norte County was also skipped when it came to highway paving projects.

“Oregon businesses must just love our California gas tax,” Berkowitz said, echoing the sentiment that many motorists travel to Brookings for cheaper fuel.

Berkowitz seconded Gitlin’s motion.

Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen said that as a businessman, he was opposed to SB1.

“I have a hard time defending that, other than the fact that it drives business away,” he said, but that business is already being driven away.”

Hemmingsen urged voters to do their own research, rather than trust numbers given by politicians. Noting the county has received $10 million in funding for Last Chance Grade, Hemmingsen said, “no other county got $10 million, that I’m aware of.”

Hemmingsen said outside proposing a highway user fee, he has no proposal to fix roads, aside from SB1.

He said he disapproved of how SB1 was passed, but said the 35 counties in the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) organization overwhelmingly opposed Proposition 6. Hemmingsen said he has mixed feelings about the bill.

Supervisor Lori Cowan said she voted against SB1, and questioned Gitlin’s claim that three out of four drivers go to Oregon for fuel. Saying that taxes started last November, Cowan countered Gitlin’s statements that fuel taxes would be imposed in addition to current ones.

She said prices have not affected her family to the degrees Gitlin claimed, adding that her own business has gone up 30 to 40 percent this year. She said in talking to local stations, she was told impacts were barely noticeable.

“I’ve asked, because we do need the money for our roads,” Cowan said, noting that SB1 road projects have already started in the county.

Countering Berkowitz, Cowan said Del Norte is one of three counties getting more tax funding back than it is paying out.

Berkowitz said DMV registration fees are twice what the state is giving back to the county, calling it “an unconscionable ripoff.”

Linda Sutter said many residents live in poverty and cannot afford the increases. Saying she drives to Brookings for fuel and goods, Sutter claimed that traffic at the start of the month indicates others follow that trend.

John Roberts said more locals go to the Casino for fuel, saying it’s cheaper than in Brookings.

Former transportation commissioner and Crescent City Councilor Kathryn Murray said the county needs the money for the roads. “... and shame on you people who go to Brookings to shop. We need to shop locally so we can keep our money here.”

Aaron Skroback called it rare that he agrees with Gitlin but increased fees are exorbitant.

Chair Chris Howard closed the issue by saying it’s hard to determine a right or wrong side to be on.

“There are a lot of opinions about how to resolve our aging roads and infrastructure system here,” Howard said. “It’s been hotly debated at RCRC, hotly debated at California State Association of Counties, the board (of supervisors) hotly debated it before (SB1) took effect, and sent a letter to our state legislature, urging them to consider the uniqueness of Del Norte County.”

Howard noted there are 15 border towns within the state, saying that the county has little influence at the state level, and gets ignored when its discontent is expressed. He said the county got no feedback on how to deal with border county issues that drive local economics north.

“I opposed SB1,” Howard said, “but moving forward, it’s your decision as a voter in Del Norte County, how you see this moving forward.”

Regarding disagreements over numbers presented at the meeting, Hemmingsen and Berkowitz urged voters to check facts and numbers before voting in November.

Cowan cast the sole no vote to support Proposition 6.