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OROVILLE – Butte County is facing a financial crisis.

Property tax revenues cannot keep pace with cost increases, and the State of California has implemented unfunded mandates that have put the county in a difficult position and forced it to make difficult decisions.

An attempt to alleviate the numerous problems may be a light at the end of the tunnel. The Butte County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a hearing for later this month to potentially pass a ballot proposal that would create a 1% countywide sales tax to be used for public safety and other general needs.

Last year, the county hired outside consulting firms CivX and FM3 to conduct outreach, surveys and development for such a measure to determine its chances of success. On Tuesday, two representatives from the firms presented their findings to the board. Before the presentation, Butte County Chief Administrative Officer Andy Pickett provided insight into the county’s past budget plans.

Pickett explained that the gap between revenue and expenditures has grown over the years, forcing the county to identify and eliminate repetitive programs.

“Every year we look at what mitigations we can do to bring those boundaries closer together,” Pickett said. “We’ve reached a point where there’s nothing left to mitigate that wouldn’t have a major impact on the community.”

Currently, the county is facing cuts that would have a direct impact on public safety, including fire stations, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, the jail and the district attorney’s office, which are already struggling with increased workloads due to staff shortages in many areas.

In his presentation, Richard Bernard of CivX said the initial poll was conducted among 640 Butte County residents who were considered highly likely to vote based on their voting history. Each person was asked whether or not they would support the tax before providing information on where the additional funds would go. Responses to whether respondents would support the measure were broken down into “definitely yes or no,” “probably yes or no,” and “undecided but leaning toward yes or no.”

Before providing information about the county’s budget problems, 54% said they would support the measure, 42% said they would not, and 4% said they were undecided. However, after explaining the context, 61% said they would support the measure, while only 33% said they would not, and 6% were still unsure.

“If you can educate people, you have a chance of getting this measure passed,” Bernard said.

Bernard found that many respondents liked the idea of ​​having locally generated revenue that could not be touched by the state.

If passed, the measure is expected to generate additional revenue of $44 million a year, Bernard said.

Last year, the county decided to use one-time funds to keep three rural fire stations open over the winter and maintain current library hours and staffing levels. Supervisor Bill Connelly had stated earlier in the meeting that he could not support the use of one-time funds in the future.

Both Sheriff Kory Honea and District Attorney Mike Ramsey spoke in favor of the measure. Honea listed the various impacts on the county’s law enforcement and public safety agencies, adding that if a measure is not passed, the jail expansions already underway could come to nothing.

“Even with the prison expansion, we need 24 additional officers to open it,” Honea said. “I don’t see how that will happen given the current financial crisis.”

The board ultimately decided to take the next step, develop a nomination paper and hold the final vote later this month.

The problems

In his presentation, which Bernard gave together with Joy Kummer, the results of a survey were shown, among other things, which provided an indication of which problems the public considers urgent.

Surveys divided the problems into seven categories that would be impacted without additional revenue. Survey respondents were asked to rank these areas in order of importance.

According to the results, protecting abused and neglected children was the top priority at 58%, followed by maintaining emergency response times at 51%, followed by combating homelessness at 50%, wildfire preparedness and recovery at 45%, addressing mental illness and addictions at 44%, preventing property crime at 42%, and maintaining public safety positions at 40%.

If the committee puts the measure on a vote, the county cannot promote the measure and must instead use outside organizations to advocate for it, including fundraising, mailings, a website, endorsements and other campaign materials.

The voting item will be presented to the Board again at its meeting on June 25.

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