Given the need and the deadline, Curry County’s board of commissioners face a nasty decision this week: what – if anything – to put before voters in May.
Any serious solution to cover the $3 million crisis involves a tax and – contrary to the cynics – any tax requires approval by the county’s voters.
And as we pointed out Wednesday, any choice made now leaves only the November ballot for a final vote. That’s the gamble in going ahead with a sales tax; we don’t think it has any chance and it’s a waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of voter goodwill.
The county’s special Citizens’ Committee suggested a sales tax, arguing that it will capture some income from visitors and will be easier for residents to pay – a little on each purchase. We are concerned that it will drive visitors and business out of the county, fall hardest on those who can least afford it, be costly to implement and collect, and come with huge enforcement issues.
The committee also acknowledged the possibility of an increased property tax increase, since Curry County levies the second lowest rate in the state for the services involved. Even raising it to half the state average would solve the county’s immediate problem.
A property tax is:
•inexpensive to implement and already in place.
•collects funds from visitors through the tax on the buildings occupied by the businesses they patronize.
•is more likely to be based on ability to pay. Those who afford more expensive property pay a higher tax.
•can be limited in time and scope, if we think circumstances may change – such as a solution to federal timber harvests.
Perhaps most compelling, a tax on property is most appropriate for the fear of doing nothing. Can you imagine what property values will do if we have to close down the sheriff’s office, stop prosecuting criminals, have no county coroner, and cannot deal with juvenile delinquents?
Yes, the voters have balked at a property tax levy before. But the situation and the understanding have changed. Coupled with a serious round of other budget actions, and a concerted effort at voter education, perhaps that can change.
Given three choices – sales tax, property tax, or county collapse – we know which we prefer.