If Jacqueline Smith and her group are successful in gathering 2,115 signatures by Oct. 8, their petition will have a direct effect on about 21,000 citizens who could see immediate reductions in county services as a result.
Smith is spearheading a petition effort that would delay implementation of two recent tax increases until they are placed on a ballot. If she gets her quota it will freeze the county's Municipal Tax Fund and Service Area #6 tax rates until November 2014.
The increases were included in the current year's budget under the assumption they would be approved following a state-required truth-in-taxation hearing in August and are scheduled to appear on the November tax bills. Each tax equates to about $24 on a typical $500,000 home, a $48 increase for homeowners whose property falls in both taxing jurisdictions. The new rates are reflected in the tax notices that residents in unincorporated areas have already received.
Revenues from those taxes are used to fund sheriff's patrols, planning, building oversight and road maintenance for residents in the unincorporated areas of the county. According to the county manager and county council members, they will have to make cuts in the budget if the increases are held up by the petition. Though they have not specified where the cuts would be made, it seems obvious that public safety and road maintenance would be affected.
The petitioners claim there is room to shave the budget.
Since the onset of the recession in 2008, elected county officials have been forced to cut personnel and services in every department. Last December they decided that further cuts, especially in public safety, were unwise and they openly discussed increasing taxes in the unincorporated areas in order to ensure the tax burden was being fairly distributed.
At the time there was no significant opposition and so the council, assuming constituents preferred a minimal tax increase to a decrease in essential services like law enforcement, adopted a budget that counted on the additional revenues.
Now, however, a minority of citizens are threatening to overturn the council's decision and lock the tax rate for as long as two full years.
Furthermore, the petition language is misleading. It promotes putting the tax resolution on a ballot for voters to approve or reject in 2014 but doesn't spell out the immediate consequences: that the already-approved revenues will be pulled out from under the current budget, resulting in the need for immediate cuts in services.
Smith and her volunteers are making an impressive effort to get the requisite number of signatures. If you haven't already been asked to sign their petition, you probably will be. We would suggest, though, that you weigh that decision carefully. signing it is likely you are agreeing to longer police response times and less road maintenance, starting sooner than you think.