A new effort to bring a sales tax increase before Kern County voters has begun. The mothers of the Bakersfield 3 are working to get a voter initiative off the ground.
The mothers say all the money raised by the tax increase will go to Kern County public safety departments.
“This isn’t about raising taxes, it’s about saving our community,” said Diane Byrne, mother of James Kulstad, who was killed in April 2018 and whose death has been linked to another death and a disappearance that have collectively become known as the Bakersfield 3. “We’re in a public safety crisis, and the only thing that is going to save ourselves is us.”
Since the death of their children, Byrne, along with Cheryl Holsonbake and Jane Parrent, the mothers of the other two Bakersfield 3 victims, Micah Holsonbake and Baylee Despot, have advocated for better public safety services countywide.
The mothers successfully lobbied the Board of Supervisors to provide $30,000 to an anonymous tip line, Secret Witness, effectively saving the program, and they have spoken up frequently on behalf of victims’ rights.
They have become a highly visible presence in the community as the cases have become more well known. In January, the mothers appeared on “Dr. Phil,” which brought the Bakersfield 3 to a wide audience.
Now, the mothers have turned their efforts to adding a sales tax measure to the March 2020 ballot.
“We simply must speak up, not only for our voiceless children, but for the public record, and to implore our residents to act now to repair the public safety crisis in our sheriff and coroner’s department,” Holsonbake said at a supervisors meeting on Tuesday.
To qualify for the ballot, an initiative needs to gather around 13,000 signatures. Byrne said she and the other mothers will begin to formulate strategies for qualifying the sales tax increase for the ballot.
Last year, Sheriff Donny Youngblood convinced supervisors to place a 1 percent sales tax increase on the November ballot. The tax would have impacted only sales in unincorporated county areas.
The county estimated it would have raised $35 million annually for the county. However, Youngblood’s sales tax measure was not designated solely to public safety departments as the Bakersfield 3 measure is expected to be.
“We want to have the best law enforcement in the state,” Byrne said. “We need this. We desperately need this.”
In November, only around 35 percent of people voted “yes” on the sales tax increase, with around 65 percent voting against.
Youngblood recently said a sales tax increase could lift the Sheriff’s Office out of the dire straits it finds itself in. Sheriff’s officials say low salaries have resulted in droves of deputies leaving for other departments, putting a strain on those that stay.
The situation has been described as a crisis by many in the law enforcement system.
Discussions between county officials and the mothers are slated to take place soon, but few details on the sales tax ordinance have been finalized, including the percent increase of the tax increase.
However, Byrne said unless something changed, the sales tax would likely be a 1 percent increase, taking the unincorporated county sales tax rate from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent.
If enough signatures are gathered to qualify for the ballot, it would need to garner 50 percent of the vote plus one in order to pass.