The Kern County Board of Supervisors will soon consider placing a sales tax increase before voters.
Supervisor Leticia Perez says she has asked the County Administrative Office to bring the matter before supervisors in the next month. If Perez’s colleagues follow her lead, Kern County voters could be making a choice on potentially raising their taxes as early as November.
“I know there are public safety groups that are interested in bringing new revenue into the county, because many of them have been convinced of our financial situation, that we really do have a revenue problem,” Perez said. “When you go into making pension obligations that are decades in consequence, you have to think about repeated revenue, you can’t just make emotional decisions about money when you have a limited pot.”
Details on how much the proposed sales tax increase would be haven't been worked out, Perez added, along with exactly how the county would divide the new funds. The CAO's Office is not drafting a proposal. It is merely adding the item to a future agenda for discussion.
Yet Perez expressed enthusiasm for the possibility.
“We have to have a new revenue stream just like the city has,” Perez said. “And I want to ask my colleagues to consider that. I’m very impressed with the city. I can’t believe what they’re doing. It’s amazing, and now I’m jealous.”
The city of Bakersfield placed a 1 percent sales tax increase on the November 2018 ballot, which voters approved by a narrow 97-vote margin. With the new funds, the city has instituted a litany of programs, including the hiring of 100 additional police officers and the purchase of a homeless shelter on Brundage Lane.
Kern County had its own sales increase proposal on the same ballot, which voters overwhelmingly rejected, with nearly 65 percent voting against.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood brought forward the initial proposal, saying his department needed the increase in funds in order to prevent a staffing crisis.
Although supervisors have approved pay raises for entry-level sheriff's deputies to make them the highest paid in the Central Valley, many employees unions are putting pressure on the board for raises of their own. The unions claim the cost of living has increased over the last decade without corresponding increases in their pay, bringing down their overall salaries.
“We feel hopeful because we want to give (cost of living allowance) increases,” Perez said. “We want to take care of our workforce. I believe that about my colleagues.”
The process for placing the tax increase on the ballot could take many meetings, she said, adding public input would be welcome.