Photo courtesy of Metro Creative 

In a recent special meeting, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors adopted an urgency ordinance to ensure a countywide sales tax gets on the ballot.

Held in a virtual meeting Aug. 21, the board voted 4-1 to adopt ordinance No. 2020-23, which extended the timeline regarding the .5% countywide sales tax (Measure X) from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31, in addition to providing direction to the elections office. This move ensured the COVID-19-delayed legislature would have time to act on related tax-use legislation SB 1349 and that Measure X would appear on the ballot regardless of the final disposition of SB 1349. Measure X would levy a half-cent sales tax, exempting food sales, to provide an estimated $81 million annually for 20 years to fund hospitals, health centers, fire services, childhood services, among other community services.

District 1 Supervisor Candace Andersen was the lone dissenting vote, but as the adoption of urgency ordinances requires a 4/5 approval, it was still able to pass.

“I am not voting in support of it; this is a very very challenging time for so many people,” Andersen said prior to the vote, noting that while she has supported sales taxes in the past, she didn’t feel it was the right time to impose a sales tax when COVID-19 has created financial strain.

Some of Andersen’s fellow board members showed some initial reservations as well. District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said she’d initially made the commitment to oppose the movement if the legislature wasn’t acting or if they hadn’t gained positive confirmation from Gov. Gavin Newsom. But in the light of the community discussion around police reform and the desire to add supporting services for vulnerable populations, she deemed this measure as an appropriate resource.

The majority of the supervisors also found favor in being able to place the measure on the ballot at a reduced cost. As spelled out in a staff report by Timothy Ewell, the financial estimate to place Measure X on the ballot was originally between $500,000 to $1 million, as the elections department is required to translate election materials into various languages, resulting in significant costs. But the county clerk recorder recently communicated that the expense would only be $211,000, since the full text of the ordinance will not be published in the voter information guide but rather made available upon request. The office recommended that the funds for this come from the general fund reserve, so as not to impact county operations.

“The reduction (of the cost to put it on the ballot) indicates to me that this is something we should be doing,” said District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis. “Some of the things that have happened ... were beyond our control, with COVID affecting the legislature and having delays. I’ve had a lot of personal conversations with people in Sacramento, and my confidence is much higher that we will get this through, so I will be supporting this as well.”

Ewell reported amendments to SB 1349 addressed Newsom’s initial concerns with the bill and that they were hopeful he would sign. SB 1349 was presented to the governor’s desk Aug. 31.