Handful of local measures on Nevada County ballot

Depending on where they live, some Nevada County voters will have local ballot measures to consider this election.

Nevada City voters have two questions — whether the city clerk and treasurer should be appointed, not elected; and if they want to extend a half-cent sales tax due to expire in two years. Grass Valley voters have one question: Do they want a cannabis business tax?

Voters in the Beyers Lane Community Service District will decide if they want to increase their parcel tax.

Measure L

Measure L submits to voters the question of whether the offices of Nevada City clerk and city treasurer should be appointed. They are currently elective offices.

An argument in favor of Measure L was filed with Nevada County elections by Nevada City Mayor Erin Minett, Vice Mayor Duane Strawser, former City Council member Valerie Moberg, and City Clerk Niel Locke.

In the argument, they said that over 75% of California cities have an appointed city clerk and over 65% have an appointed city treasurer, a shift they said has been developing over the last 55 years. 

“Today, municipal government and regulations have become more complex,” they wrote. “Independent audits and internal controls provide necessary oversight and accountability for the city’s administration and finances.”

They cited the specialized skills necessary to perform each of these roles, arguing that it is important that candidates be chosen based on possessing the appropriate skillset. Professional experience and expertise in elections and fair political practice laws, the Brown Act, and records retention management is essential in a city clerk. Similarly, a city treasurer should be equipped with professional experience and expertise in municipal fund accounting, government report requirements, investment regulations, and debt management.

According to their filed argument, a “yes” vote for Measure L would “(guarantee) that minimum qualifications are established, ensuring that qualified professionals with the required expertise are selected.”

According to the measure, should it pass, the Nevada City Council would appoint a new city clerk or city treasurer when the terms of those currently in office expire or there is otherwise a vacancy.

No arguments were filed against the measure.

Measure M

Nevada City voters this November will decide whether to extend Measure M, a half-cent sales tax enacted in 2006 and set to expire at the end of 2022.

The tax would fund an estimated $550,000 annually for streets, sidewalks, pathways, water distribution, sewer collection and street drainage.

The measure requires two-thirds voter approval to pass. If not passed, the city could put the measure on the ballot again in 2022.

According to an argument in favor of the measure, the tax has funded $9 million in improvements to 22 miles of roadways and sidewalks, but is still $33 million behind in water and sewer pipe replacement.

“If Measure M fails, our recently restored roads and sidewalks will fall to disrepair, there will be continued emergency repairs to replace 130-year-old pipes requiring the city to dig up recently restored roadways and failing sewer pipes could trigger costly state and federal fines,” the argument states. “Measure M will maintain our roads, sidewalks and pipes and will spread the cost of repair fairly for everyone that uses Nevada City’s infrastructure.”

No argument was filed in opposition to the measure.

Measure N

The city of Grass Valley is proposing a cannabis business license tax, similar to one passed by Nevada City in 2018.

Cannabis businesses are not yet permitted in Grass Valley, but the city hopes the passage of Measure N will lay the groundwork for taxing them, just in case that changes.

The measure proposes initial rates and sets maximum tax amounts for each type of business. Depending on lighting source, cultivators would be taxed between 50 cents to $4 per square foot annually, with businesses using exclusively artificial lighting paying the most. The tax is modeled after Nevada City’s tax structure, but adds an additional tax on gross profits from high potency cannabis products and sweetened cannabis drinks.

The ballot argument in favor of the tax was written by Mayor Lisa Swarthout and Council member Howard Levine, and frames it as a way to stabilize the city’s finances without raising taxes on residents and property owners.

“Even though Grass Valley has not yet allowed cannabis businesses, deliveries are happening here and the people making money in this business contribute nothing to the cost of the services they need,” the argument states. 

Measure N will allow Grass Valley to tax cannabis businesses that deliver there or that the city may allow in the future, the argument states. 

This will ensure the cannabis industry pays its fair share for city services, and is not a tax on cannabis users but a business tax, the argument states. 

Measure N would impose a yearly license tax of up to $7 a square foot of commercial grow area, 8% of retail receipts and 6% of other receipts, with an additional tax on highly potent products, to last until amended by voters. 

“High potency” cannabis or cannabis product means cannabis flower containing more than 17% THC or a cannabis product containing more than 50% THC, excluding edibles containing 10 mg or less of THC per packaged and labeled dose.

The initial rate of the business tax will be $4 per square foot of canopy space in a facility that uses exclusively artificial lighting; $3 a square foot for a combination of artificial and natural light; $1 a square foot for facilities that use no artificial lighting; and 50 cents a square foot of canopy space for any nursery. Any business that only cultivates a few months of the years shall have the tax prorated.

Testing labs will be taxed 2% of the gross receipts. Dispensaries will be taxed at 4%, while manufacturing, processing, distribution or other cannabis-related businesses will be taxed at 2%.

The tax can be increased by the City Council through June 30, 2021, up to a maximum of $5 a square foot for facilities using some artificial light and $7 for all artificial light. Thereafter, the canopy tax can be adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index.

The maximum tax rate for dispensaries would be set at 8%, and 6% for manufacturing or distribution businesses.

An additional tax will be imposed of up to 1% of the gross receipts from high potency cannabis or cannabis products, multiplied by the percent of THC above 17%, as well as for 20% of the gross receipts from sweetened cannabis beverages.

The tax is estimated to generate approximately $250,000 a year with all funds staying local, the ordinance reads. The money would fund essential public safety services, streets, parks and other general city services. Measure N requires annual audits of how much money the city receives and how it spends it, and makes those audits public.

No argument was filed in opposition.

Measure O

On the ballot this November is a parcel tax increase to provide funding its proponents say is necessary for continued road maintenance of the Beyers Lane Community Service District.

Measure O would impose a tax increase to compensate for population growth and inflation, which the district’s Board of Directors says impacts its ability to effectively respond to ongoing road maintenance issues.

The board seeks voter approval for a district tax of $300 per parcel annually to replace the existing tax of $200 per year. It is estimated to raise $19,200 each year.

If approved by a majority of the district’s voters, the proposed increase will be used solely to maintain the roads and culverts of the district, with all funds staying in the district’s boundaries, except for insurance and audit fees.

Supporters of the measure say it is in the interest of voters to ensure the ongoing and long-term fiscal integrity of the district. They say the alternative to the increase would be reduced road maintenance while costs will continue to burgeon.

The roads in the district are mostly gravel and non-asphalt. Road maintenance involves a small tractor laying and smoothing the gravel and the use of heavy equipment grading the roads’ base and contours.

While the tractor work is done by the district members for free, the remainder is not. The board states that since the last tax increase from $100 to $200 per parcel in August 2002, the costs of doing maintenance work has gone up.

According to those in favor of the measure, the cost of fuel has increased from $1.35 per gallon in 2002 to $3.15 per gallon in 2020. The cost for grading of roads has also since increased from $1,800 to $4,000. In addition to road maintenance, the board must conduct biennial audits, and they say the associated fees have gone up from $1,500 to $2,400.

Opponents of the measure say the increase represents a financial burden to some in the district. They state many of the property owners are on a fixed income, and that to pay for this tax would be too great a cost.

The measure also notes that the parcel tax is neither an ad valorem tax on real property, nor a transaction or sales tax on the sale of property. It is an excise tax on the privilege of using district services.

If passed, the tax would continue in effect until the voters repeal or replace it.

More: Handful of local measures on Nevada County ballot

More from The Union