We watched the Nevada City Council meeting on NCTV last night, and you could hear a pin drop when the discussion about Measure L (the sales tax hike came up). The Council looked a bit befuddled. One person spoke out in favor of the tax — but he wasn’t even eligible to vote on the Measure.
This proposed tax is also an informal referendum on the Council (and the Grass Valley Council) and whether people trust them to spend the money wisely. Voters already are casting their ballots.
Nevada City’s finances are improving, we learned last night. In addition, residents just got stung with a big increase in water rates. Last, memories still linger from the scathing “Asleep at the Wheel” grand jury report from 2007-2008.
The biggest visible backers of Measure L are the Council members (some of whom have “Yes on L” signs in their yards).
In Grass Valley, the issue also is one of trust: Will the Council spend the money wisely? A Citizens Oversight committee will meet at least annually.
But Grass Valley still suffers from the perception of being run by an “old guard,” which is not very inclusive or tolerant of divergent views. This continually raises trust issues with citizens, just as it does in Nevada City (where the “old guard” is called “the machine”).
Though campaign literature for Proposition N talks about spending the money on public safety and road repair, here’s how the language reads: “Section 20. DECLARATION. The proceeds of the taxes imposed by this ordinance may be used for any lawful purpose of the City, as authorized by ordinance, resolution or action of the City Council. These taxes are not special taxes within the meaning of Article XIII C, section 1(d), but are general taxes imposed for general government purposes. “
The same is true for Nevada City: “Funds generated by this tax would not be restricted to a specific use . . . .”
I’m confident that a well-written special tax could pass in both cities (despite a 2/3 majority rather than simple majority threshold). Unlike the South County, where a fire tax measure barely lost, the voter demographics in Grass Valley and Nevada City are more diverse.
That has created a trust issue in and of itself: Why did the Councils go for the lower, majority threshold instead? Just to make it easier to win approval?
The irony is that many of the same groups that support the local sales-tax measures also have been vociferous critics of waste in federal and state government (and the Democrats).
If the Measures do pass, congratulations to the supporters for winning over the electorate. If they do not pass, there should be some serious reflection on multiple fronts.
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