County finalizes sales tax for ballot

“It’s a hard pill to swallow and it’s a hard conversation to have, but it’s that time in history in Josephine County where I think we need to have that conversation.”
Commissioner Darin Fowler

Several options have been considered by the Board of Josephine County Commissioners to provide long term funding for law enforcement.
The Law Enforcement Retail Activities Tax, or LARET, emerged as a clear favorite during the July 27 weekly business session, after the commissioners made it clear they believe LARET has a much better chance of passing in the November election than a new law enforcement taxing district.
On Wednesday, Aug. 10, a second reading of the ordinance to institute LARET was held.
The sales tax, if approved by the JoCo electorate, will be collected on all retail activities from April 15 to Oct. 15 every year, in a likely but not yet finalized amount of 3% per retail purchase.
County legal counsel Wally Hicks presented the board with amendments made to the ordinance since its first reading, starting with the amount of the tax collected being placed in a contingency fund being increased from at least 5% to at least 7% annually.
Another ordinance amendment was spelled out by Hicks: “Upon passage of the LARET, the Grants Pass City Council shall reduce the property tax levy for law enforcement for all city citizens subject to the levy from $1.79 to $0.79 per $1,000 of assessed value. Such a levy reduction shall take effect in the following budget cycle, or at any other time to be determined by the city council.”
Moving on to exceptions from the tax, Hicks said that groceries, prescription medicine, any interest in real property, investment holdings and motor vehicle fuel, in addition to some other items, will not be taxed.
Hicks also noted that a section in the ordinance was added to ensure any financial information gathered while collecting the sales tax will remain confidential, which Commissioner Dan DeYoung praised.
“I don’t want people nosing around in my books,” DeYoung said.
Sheriff candidate Jonathan Knapp spoke during requests and comments from citizens, saying the LARET “starts in the direction” of fully funding the sheriff “but doesn’t get there.”
Knapp urged the board to include a “two or three year sunset so that we could evaluate how much money really came in and was it a long enough or short enough period,” adding he feels the county won’t get “anywhere near” the $18 million the tax is projected to raise annually.
He also critiqued the allocation of funds among the sheriff’s office, juvenile justice and district attorney, saying the latter two “are not law enforcement and really probably shouldn’t have a portion of the law enforcement sales tax that’s designed to fund the sheriff’s office.”
“If I win the election in November, I have to deal with the results of this,” said Knapp. “That’s what I’m fighting for and I intend to win.”
Selma resident Mark Seligman called the sales tax proposal “voodoo economics” and opined that the revenue projections for the tax are not reliable.
Tensions escalated when Seligman attempted to display large “No New Taxes” and “DeYoung Taxes” banners, and was chastised by the commissioners for violating meeting rules.
The Selma resident shouted that the commissioners are against free speech as his time expired and he returned to his seat.
“You can go ahead and keep bashing me and that’s fine,” DeYoung responded to Seligman. “We have a nut to crack as the board of county commissioners when our sheriff comes to us and tells us exactly what the budget is and what the sheriff’s office will look like if something wasn’t found to fund the sheriff.”
Commissioner Darin Fowler said he sympathized with citizens who were concerned about adding expenses when there are already “exorbitant” prices for goods due to inflation.
“This is a really tough one, I give you that,” Fowler said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow and it’s a hard conversation to have, but it’s that time in history in Josephine County where I think we need to have that conversation.”
The board unanimously adopted the seasonal sales tax ordinance. It now heads to the November ballot.