Z-bucks dry up as sales tax rev drops

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT– Revenue from Humboldt County’s Measure Z public safety sales tax is down this year, leaving only $3.5 million for new funding items. 

This year’s list of Measure Z allocations does include a range of public safety improvements, however, including funding for firefighting equipment and facilities, and continued funding for a school resource officer  and two juvenile diversion counselors for the Arcata/McKinleyville area.

The county’s Board of Supervisors directed staff to work the items into the coming year’s Measure Z budget. Revenue is estimated at $10.5 million, a reduction from previous years due to the county’s nine percent drop in sales tax income. Most of it will go toward funding law enforcement-related and other previously-allocated staff positions. 

Glen Ziemer, who chairs the advisory committee that developed the list of recommended funding items, described this year’s tight Measure Z budgeting. He said that $15 million of funding requests have been reviewed and considering the amount of available funding, “You can imagine there are going to be a lot of disappointed folks.” 

Among them is the City of Arcata, whose requests for disaster shelter back-up generators, road repair equipment and radar feedback traffic signs are unfunded. 

Also unfunded is a staffing and operations assistance request from the McKinleyville-based AJ’s Transitional Living Center residential addiction recovery program.   

And unlike previous years, this year’s Measure Z funding doesn’t include money for road improvements. Commenting on that, Supervisor Estelle Fennel said the cost of ongoing staffing is a factor “but it’s also a drop in revenues.” 

Measure Z isn’t the only income source that’s down. Measure S cannabis tax revenue is in “a huge drop” because of a policy that allows producers to hold off on paying taxes until next year, said Fennell. 

“We don’t know how this whole transition is going to go but the whole concept behind giving those businesses a break is to make sure they can be solid into the future and be a dependable revenue source,” she continued. 

Among the funding recommendations is about $40,000 to upgrade KMUD radio’s emergency broadcasting equipment. Supervisor Mike Wilson said that “during times of emergency, KMUD is one of the places where people get their primary source of information” and “they’ve been very, very good at that.” 

Wilson added that with the discontinuation of KHSU radio, “It’s even more important that we have those community radio stations that are able to do that.” 

Supervisor Virginia Bass queried whether KMUD needs the funding immediately.

Fennell, who was KMUD’s news director during the 2003 Canoe and Honeydew fires and was lauded for her public information work, said the station’s emergency broadcasting is “a lifeline for many people and “I believe that they need that money ASAP.” 

Supervisors were faced with a dilemma – after the advisory committee developed its recommendations, revenue estimates were revised and the board had to make $350,000 in cuts. 

The county’s Fire Chiefs Association offered to take a $100,000 cut from its $1.7 million allotment and with other adjustments, the shortfall was whittled to about $209,000. 

Instead of cutting the Measure Z budget, supervisors directed staff to identify other county budget sources for the reduction. 

Board Chair Rex Bohn was only supervisor to vote against approval of the advisory committee’s recommendations, due to the lack of road funding. 

Supervisors will make definitive approvals when they review the county’s budget in June.







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