By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun
Kern County First District Supervisor Mick Gleason and Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood were guest speakers of the Kern Valley Exchange Club and had much to say about the Sheriff’s proposed 1 cent sales tax to be presented to Kern County voters this November.
This tax, if passed, would be a general tax intended for the county’s general fund and is estimated to generate about $35 million annually. If allocated in the county’s traditional percentages, the Sheriff would see about 48 percent of that.
Youngblood said that he had commitments from each supervisor for a higher percentage that would amount to just under $20 million.
The tax would only apply to unincorporated Kern County and will only be presented to voters in Kern’s unincorporated areas. Incorporated areas such as Bakersfield and Ridgecrest vote on their own taxes and will not see this tax.
The purpose of Youngblood’s proposal is to generate more funds for the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, which has been losing deputies in record numbers because of a lack of parity with other agencies, most notably Bakersfield Police Department.
He noted that his reason for deciding on a general tax rather than a tax specific to the Sheriff’s Office was that in California, specific taxes must pass with a 66 percent supermajority, while general taxes only require a 50 percent majority vote. Given that Kern County is traditionally opposed to tax increases, Youngblood felt that a general tax would be more likely to pass.
“The hardest person to sell was Mick Gleason because he’s like me – we’re anti-tax,” said Youngblood. “But I think he gets it.”
While Gleason expressed that he understood the legitimate concerns of KLEA, he was not happy with how the agency had expressed their frustrations at the board’s August 21 meeting.
“It was the worst board meeting of my 6 years,” said Gleason.
The Kern County Law Enforcement Agency (KLEA) recently rejected a salary increase from the county because it included negative changes to overtime payments and eliminated an incentive program for new members. At the August 21 meeting, many KLEA members and their families attended to make their feelings about the county’s law enforcement staffing issues known before staging a walkout.
Some family members of law enforcement officers expressed how negatively the staffing issues had affected their families, noting that officers brought home stressors, turned to drinking, and refused to retire because of the lack of staffing.
Many officers and family members also expressed that their pay was considerably lower than if they worked in the private sector, with one deputy noting that she had made the same amount of money that she had as a part-time bartender before joining the Sheriff’s Office.
Although Gleason was not happy with KLEA’s approach at the meeting, he said that the County had heard their concerns and would regroup.
“We’re going to reset, we’re going to go back, we’re going to start the dialog again, and we’re going to make sure we come to a common understanding of exactly what their needs are,” said Gleason.
“We are going to fix it and make it whole,” he continued.
Both Youngblood and Gleason agreed that the issue needed to be repaired, and Youngblood noted that if the issue did not see a rapid fix, substations would end up closed because of a lack of staffing.
“We either fix this, or we don’t have public safety as we know it today,” said Youngblood. “I can’t recruit people and retain them unless they’re going to have a competitive salary.”
The proposed tax will appear on the ballot on Tuesday, November 6.