On Tuesday, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors fell short of the four out of five vote needed to rescind its previous support of Proposition 6, which will ask voters in November to repeal the gas tax increase made possible by Senate Bill 1.
In order to repeal the rules so the board could have the discussion and change its previous decision, it needed a 4/5 vote. With Supervisors Bob Berkowitz and Roger Gitlin voting no, the first motion failed.
County Counsel Liz Cable said the board could still make a second decision to oppose Proposition 6, which could potentially result in two opposing votes. Cable said she did not advise the board to do so.
After some discussion, District 4 Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen asked that the item be placed on the agenda, citing new information on the issue.
Chair Chris Howard said he made a mistake in voting last week to support Prop 6. He said he has spent years trying to communicate to state legislators that, as a border county, Del Norte has a lot of economic bleed over into Oregon. He said while it affects the local economy and creates problems, the state has failed to hear it.
He said he received several phone calls after the vote asking him how he could turn his back on funding that far exceeds what the county is putting out.
“All of this board has been advocating for Last Chance Grade, very strongly,” he said. “The state has advanced dollars. They have made unprecedented moves by getting that geotech (study) started, and now they’re considering, in November, a huge piece of this, $70 million.”
Howard said Supervisors Hemmingsen and Lori Cowan heard directly from Caltrans officials, that SB1 funding would be how the Last Chance Grade project will come together.
“Supervisor Hemmingsen felt the public needed to know this in weighing in on these decisions that the board is making,” he said. Howard said he has learned that Prop 6 would also affect county roads budgets and state highways.
Hemmingsen asked the issue be brought back for another look and discussion, saying that while the move was unusual, he felt it was necessary.
Berkowitz said he had a list of four state highway projects costing $133 million, that two consisted of bridge work and two were fish passage barriers. He said that while all supervisors were in agreement about Last Chance Grade, the proposed projects have nothing to do with it. He said he feels SB1 is bad law that was foisted on taxpayers.
“I hate to be blackmailed by a state senator,” he said of Sen. Mike McGuire. Berkowitz suggested the state use its surplus money to fix state roads.
Saying a lot of incorrect statements had been made, Cowan asked voters to avail themselves of accurate information regarding the funding of state and local highways. She said it worries her when those who work on state highways and are not elected officials tell her that no new funding will become available without SB1.
“That is our lifeline to come into Del Norte County, so I am going to protect it,” she said.
Gitlin said his bottom line is that he did not want to punish poor community members who cannot afford the increases in fuel and DMV fees. He said the increased fuel costs will affect food prices and create more strain on impoverished residents.
Del Norte Local Transportation Commission Director Tamera Leighton said if Proposition 6 passes, it will remove some “safety nets” previously provided by SB1.
“It will stop the funding for Last Chance Grade,” she said. “Projects that are programmed now will be deprogrammed; projects that are really needed in our community, like the intersection of Highway 199 at Elk Valley Crossroad.” She said other operational projects will fail to go forward, including improvements to Highway 199 and the state will revert to only funding emergency repairs.
“If that‘s what you want as a taxpayer and a voter, I encourage you to support Proposition 6,” she said. “If you want something different for our community, if Last Chance Grade is important to you, then you will consider the impacts of your vote directly on our community for access to all of our roads.”
Leighton provided a handout of what she said were vetted facts about SB1, which can be found online at dnltc.org.
After some discussion, supervisors voted 3/2 to oppose Prop 6, falling short of the needed 4/5 vote. The 4.5 hour meeting adjourned shortly afterward following board reports.