Anxiety over a dramatic reduction in sheriff’s patrols has been roiling for months, spurring street demonstrations and dominating public comments at Plumas County Board of Supervisors meetings.
Sheriff Todd Johns has repeatedly blamed low wages for the loss of deputies and correctional officers at the county jail, which forced him to reduce patrols.
Now Supervisor Jeff Engel has proposed a solution: a ballot measure that would raise the countywide sales tax, with the new revenue dedicated solely to the Sheriff’s Office and jail.
“It’s for nothing but public safety.”Plumas County Supervisor Jeff Engel
Engel, who represents the East Quincy aend Graeagle area, has been working for months with Johns on developing the proposal to increase the sales tax by three-fourths of one percent. If approved, it would raise the current 7.25 percent sales tax to 8 percent.
Engel estimated that the annual revenue would be about $2.4 million.
“It’s for nothing but public safety. It won’t go into the general fund. It won’t go into anything else—just public safety,” Engel said Sept. 29 at a special Board of Supervisors meeting.
The supervisors unanimously approved his motion declaring an emergency under Proposition 218 and calling for placing a special tax measure on the March 5 presidential primary ballot. It will require a two-thirds majority to pass. Terminating a tax once approved requires another vote, but would be approved by a simple majority vote, said Acting County Counsel Sara James.
Raising revenue through a sales tax increase is an equitable way to dedicate funds to public safety, said Board Chairman Greg Hagwood.
“Everyone who buys a tank of gas, everyone who visits Plumas County will be paying for public safety. This is a fundamental priority,” Hagwood said.
While First District Supervisor Dwight Ceresola voted for the resolution, he raised a question about extending it to fund the entire emergency system.
Leslie Chrysler, Portola’s former interim city manager, amplified his concern. She urged the supervisors to include fire departments and emergency medical response in the ballot measure.
Traffic accidents, emergency medical calls and fire response are a large part of the services required by residents and visitors to Plumas County, she said. Not including them seems “short-sighted,” Chrysler told the supervisors.
“I ask you to be proactive, to consider a larger increase to the sales/use tax and support the entire emergency services community in the county,” said Chrysler.
Amending a resolution for the March 5 ballot would require starting over, said James. Supervisor Kevin Goss, who represents District Two, suggested adding other emergency services but voted for Engel’s motion that limits funds to the Sheriff’s Office and jail.
A month of reduced patrol shifts
On August 30 Johns consolidated the traditional two-daily patrol shifts to a single 10-hour shift. Since then deputies have been patrolling from noon to 10 p.m. That leaves the county without on-the-street law enforcement for 14 hours a day, from 10 p.m. until noon.
Johns has been asking the supervisors to raise wages for months. Plumas County Sheriff’s deputies are paid a base wage of $21.52 an hour, according to information he provided. That’s 36 percent lower than the average salary in eight comparable rural counties in California, Johns said.
Correctional officers and dispatchers are paid a base hourly wage of $18.98, according to Johns. That’s 26 percent and 19 percent respectively below the eight-county comparison, he said.
On Sept. 19 the county supervisors’ closed session agenda included labor negotiations with the Sheriff’s Administrative Unit, Sheriff’s Department Employees Association and other county employees’ bargaining units. No action was taken, Hagwood announced after the closed session.