Kern County supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to place a one-eighth cent sales tax to support the Kern County library system on the June 7 ballot.
But supervisors had library supporters sweating as they hashed out their concerns and debated the issue.
Following public comment on the issue, Supervisor Leticia Perez made an immediate motion to place the library tax on the ballot.
The motion was met with a long silence.
Supervisor Mick Gleason, who as chairman could not second the motion, let the silence hang before taking the mic to share his thoughts.
He said he’d promised he would support placing the tax on the ballot if data from a poll by retired Cal State Bakersfield Political Science Professor Kent Price came back showing it had a shot at passing.
Price’s poll came back showing that high-propensity voters, once they were informed of what the $15 million tax would do for libraries, supported the measure at a 60 percent level. A tax needs 66.7 percent support to pass, however.
Gleason said in general he opposes raising taxes in any way, shape or form.
But he said that it’s not his job to tell people what they want, it’s his job to have the people tell him what they want from their government.
“If this measure gets on the ballot and it passes, great,” he said. “If it doesn’t, I am still committed to fixing our libraries.”
Supervisor Zack Scrivner strongly opposed the tax.
“I want to express how deeply I respect the passion from the people who are advocating for this ballot measure but also the people who are advocating for our libraries,” he said. “However, when I’m looking at the data there are a couple of things that stand out for me and concern me.”
Scrivner doesn’t believe the tax will pass.
“I don’t want to vote to put this measure on the ballot if, in my gut, I don’t believe it has a chance of passing,” Scrivner said.
Supervisor David Couch was another clear “no” vote.
“I agree with what Supervisor Scrivner just said, just about word for word,” Couch said.
Pollster Price said there were positives and negatives in the poll data and that better numbers would be better news for the tax measure.
But there is support for libraries in the community.
“People believe the library is doing a good job and as a result they enjoy a high level of credibility and that credibility will help pass this measure,” he said.
The measure does have a shot at passing, he said.
“What I have seen with these data, as well as the momentum in the non-scientific portions of this, gives me great hope that this could happen. It’s going to take a lot of luck,” Price said. “You’re 500 feet from the top of Mount Everest and you’ve got the hardest part to go.”
In the end it was Supervisor Mike Maggard who issued a pragmatic take on why he would vote to support placing the tax on the ballot.
A June ballot measure would cost the county $30,000. If tax advocates placed the issue on a special election by gathering signatures, he said, it could cost the county $1.2 million.
Maggard said he was sticking by his word from the week before and voting for the public to have a chance to vote for a library tax.
He seconded Perez’s motion and Gleason joined them in voting yes.
The room broke out in applause.
Most of the people who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting were there in support of placing the tax measure on the ballot.
Mandy Walters of Advocates for Library Enhancement, the group spearheading the library tax, said a separate quarter-cent sales tax sunsets in December. Even if the library tax passes, taxpayers would pay less when the library tax takes effect in January 2017.
Critics said the tax is not a wise move during the current economic crisis.
But studies, Walters said, have shown that bad economies cause communities to lean more heavily on their libraries.
Jill Egland said this tax measure is really a chance for the community to choose the resources it wants to invest in.
Nick Ortiz, President and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce spoke out against putting the tax on the ballot.
And he promised to actively oppose the measure on the ballot.
”One of the things we agree on is that we need to have a discussion about our libraries and our resources,” he said.
Given the financial situation of the county and the general economic state in Kern County, Ortiz said, “it’s not the time for a sales tax.”
Tom Pavich of the Bakersfield Tea Party said it isn’t the government’s job to do the work for a special interest group and put the measure on the ballot.
Supervisors had a lively discussion with Sheriff Donny Youngblood about the impact of mid-year cuts to sheriff’s operations.
Supervisor Mick Gleason thanked Youngblood for holding a town hall meeting in Ridgecrest about the jail there and for working with County Administrative Officer John Nilon to find funds to keep the jail open through the end of June.
Now, Gleason said, the community of Ridgecrest needs to step up and find the funds to keep the jail open next fiscal year.
Supervisor David Couch and Youngblood had a robust discussion about the closure of the Buttonwillow sub-station. Only a clerical worker remains at the station and the complement of sheriff’s deputies were shifted into other, open positions to clear up vacancies.
Youngblood said his budget was cut nearly $1 million and he’s looking at another $5 million cut for the 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
It’s not likely that Buttonwillow will get its deputies back while the fiscal crisis continues, he said.
“Buttonwillow is just fine. Their response is just fine,” he said.
Couch wondered if he could push funding to keep one person in Buttonwillow
Youngblood said he can’t take money from supervisors to fund his positions because then the supervisors have control of his employees and the sheriff’s control of his department is lessened.
“I cannot allow that to happen,” he said.
Jeff Frey of Butttonwillow expressed concerns about the loss of the deputies stationed at the sheriff’s substation.
“It seems strange that you would keep a bookeeper in an office where we’d rather have a deputy,” he said.
“This is a difficult time, budgetwise,“ Couch told speakers from Buttonwillow. ”I’m going to watch out for you the best I can.“
”And it’s my job to watch out for you was well. I haven’t lost sight of that,“ Youngblood said.