Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Data provided to the county by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) shows that more than 3,000 households in the unincorporated area had energy use exceeding 600 percent of average for at least one month in each of the last three years.
That information is essential to the county’s decision on whether to advance a 45 percent energy bill tax on households using more than 600 percent of a baseline threshold. The decision-making process will proceed slowly – 2016 has emerged as the election year for putting an excessive use tax on the ballot.
The tax would target energy use but its intent is also to get larger indoor marijuana grows out of residential areas.
In briefing the Board of Supervisors on the proposal at its meeting, County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes said that based on the new data, the county would have reaped $8 million in revenue last year if an excessive energy tax had been in place.
He added that in Arcata, where a tax has been collected since October 2013, revenue “dropped off pretty substantially from what they were expecting.” In advance of Measure I, Arcata’s excessive use tax ballot measure, 2011 data showed that 633 households used energy above the 600 percent mark.
Smith-Hanes said that data from the first three months of Arcata’s implementation of Measure I shows a 91 percent decrease in the number of excessive use households. If the same drop happens for the county, its power tax revenue would fall to about $800,000, he continued.
Supervisor Mark Lovelace said that considering the goals of taxing excessive use, less revenue means the system works. If the tax succeeds in reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions and preventing displacement of housing due to residential marijuana operations, then less revenue will be had, he continued.
Arcata Councilmember and energy specialist Michael Winkler said that prior to Measure I, his city’s overall energy use increased by 25 percent in a five-year period when the rest of the state saw a decrease. The same time period saw frequent complaints about indoor marijuana grows and police actions against them, he continued.
Since Measure I’s approval and implementation, complaints to police have “virtually disappeared” and students have reported having an easier time finding housing, Winkler said.
He also said the city’s revenue from the tax is about $50,000 a month and it will take more than a year for the city to break even due to the costs of setting up and administering the tax.
Smith-Hanes said the county will spend “hundreds – plural – of thousands of dollars to implement this tax.”
Board Chairman Rex Bohn wasn’t fazed by that. Referring to Lovelace’s comments, he said that if the program’s goals are met absent a profit, “We’ll still be moving forward.”
Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said he’s sometimes approached by people who tell him a use tax is designed to “stick it to the marijuana business.” He disagrees.
“This isn’t an attack on anything,” Sundberg said. “This is us responding to what we’re hearing in the communities and trying to react to it.”
Factors supervisors are weighing include what type of tax measure should be advanced and when it should be put to voters. Supervisors unanimously voted to have its marijuana subcommittee work with the county administrator’s office to “develop a work plan” targeting the November 2016 election for putting an excessive energy use tax on the ballot.