By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun
The Kern County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday, July 24, to place a 1 percent (1 cent) sales tax on the November ballot for unincorporated Kern County.
Fourth District Supervisor David Couch was the dissenting vote.
The measure would raise the current sales tax from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent, bringing about $35 million into Kern County’s general fund annually.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood proposed the tax in hopes that it would alleviate the growing staffing problem within Kern County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO).
A general tax will require a simple majority approval (over 50 percent in favor) while a special tax earmarking funds specifically for law enforcement would have required a supermajority (over 66 percent.)
Youngblood told The Sun that while earmarking the funds would have ensured that the money went to KCSO, a general tax is much easier to pass, and he expects an appropriate portion to go to law enforcement.
“The Board of Supervisors knows what it’s for,” Youngblood said. “I’m going to hold them accountable for that.”
KCSO hired 64 new deputies this year but lost 52 to other departments. At the July 10 meeting, Youngblood said that many of KCSO’s deputies make a lateral move to Bakersfield Police Department (BPD) where deputies are higher paid than their county counterparts.
Currently, KCSO receives about 42 percent of the general fund. If the measure passes, assuming county spending remains the same, KCSO would receive about $14 million more annually. With these funds, Youngblood hopes to hire more deputies to fill the vacancies in a number of Kern County Sheriff substations and negotiate raises for deputies.
First District Supervisor Mick Gleason followed a shrewd line of questioning for county representatives before ultimately supporting the measure’s addition to the ballot.
Gleason questioned whether the unincorporated areas of his district would see any benefits from the tax, asking specifically why Kern River Valley (KRV) residents should support it. He said that while he understood the strain on KCSO, residents bear the strain as well.
“The taxpayer of California is equally as burdened with taxes all around,” he said.
Youngblood stated that the KRV could hope to see two additional deputies added to its substation.
“There will be a dramatic increase in Ridgecrest and the Kern River Valley,” he confirmed.
Kern Valley Substation’s Sgt. Johnny Frisbie believes that the proposed tax would help the KRV tremendously.
“The proposed 1 percent sales tax initiative would allow revenue to be allocated toward improved deputy staffing levels for the Kern Valley Substation,” said Frisbie. “As a result, the communities in Kern Valley would see improved public safety through quicker response times, improved staffing levels, officer safety, and overall improvements in quality of life related issues resulting from crime.”
Gleason also questioned County Auditor Mary Bedard and Ryan Alsop of the County Administrative Office about what he called “honest government.” Gleason was concerned both that the tax paid by unincorporated Kern County would be funneled back into Bakersfield’s population and that the county would abandon the “Lean Six Sigma” that has brought its general fund deficit from $44 million to $17 million.
Bedard confirmed that all county agencies would be required to report to the Auditor’s Office to ensure that whatever percentage of their budget came from the increased tax would go entirely back to unincorporated communities.
Likewise, Alsop promised that he considers the measure a separate subject from the county’s Lean Six Sigma and fully intends to continue operating under the restrictions of the plan regardless of the increased revenue.
“We’re doing the work to save the money,” Gleason said, referring back to the County’s 60 percent deficit decrease. “I want some guarantee that that’s not going to stop.”