There is a ballot being sent to property owners to create a new bureaucracy called the Mosquito Abatement and Vector Control District. When property owners get the mail-in ballot a “NO” vote is called for, both because we don't need this new bureaucracy and also to send a clear message to county officials of citizen disgust at the deceptive tactics used by the county to guarantee a “YES” vote.
This spring's second special election asks us to tax ourselves to create a new bureaucracy to do public health work that's already being done by existing county agencies. We already have a functioning mosquito abatement and Vector Control Program that was created in 2005, paid for by the county’s general fund. Why tax ourselves again? The county has such little rational need for this bureaucracy that they actually had to hire a political consultant to figure out how to sell it as a need to an unsuspecting public. This political consultant not only advised the county, using our tax dollars, but has also written the only information supplied with the ballot—no opposing points of view will be allowed in the official ballot literature. Why are county officials afraid of open pro-and-con discussion such as is supplied in other elections?
Having already invested nearly half a million dollars of our tax money to assure the success of this special election, they have conveniently left out, and refuse to allow, other facts that are important for making your decision.
Fact 1: We taxpayers already spend $7 million for both the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Health Division. Pest-control management, detection, and eradication are already an integral part of each agency's responsibility.
Fact 2: These departments employ 76 staff members. A new bureaucracy will add 8 new staff positions, with a starting salary of $114,086 for the department head, the next lower staff member paid $99,703, and the next three at $64,000 each.
Fact 3: Huge new bureaucratic overhead costs of $750,000 to $1 million will be incurred. New staff salaries alone will be $520,000 for the first year. New offices with furniture, equipment, vehicles, computers, supplies, reserve funds, trips to conferences, etcetera. will add even more.
Fact 4: This new tax will go directly on our property tax bill. All new expenses are guaranteed to be paid by us. There is no incentive for this new bureaucracy to use the most cost-efficient means to get the job done. In fact, it is more probable that bureaucratic costs will grow even larger with each passing year. There are rewards for 'growing'. Why? Because bigger departments mean bigger salaries and more power. The costs of growth guaranteed by our properties provide the automatic means for this to happen. This flies in the face of what people want from their government in these difficult economic times.
Fact 5: This proposal for a new bureaucracy came before the Board of Supervisors in 2004 and was rejected by a clear majority, including me, because we felt it would create unnecessary additional expenses for county taxpayers. The Farm Bureau Board of Directors also voted, just this month, to oppose this new tax.
No one denies there is a job to be done. Pest management is a very serious concern for all of us. The question is: How can this job be done most effectively and with the least cost? It is not by creating another bureaucracy! We all have to consider costs and how we do business. Why not hold county officials to the same standard? The most logical and efficient way to accomplish that goal is to work within the already-paid-for resources of the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Health. Effective use of our present vector control program eliminates start-up costs; the vehicles are already traveling all over the county. Both departments need to prioritize their work programs. Otherwise, there’s no end to the new 'districts' and taxing mechanisms that we’ll will be asked to pay.
The out-of-town company with a track record of success in getting new property taxes approved is the same firm that will run the election. 'They' will determine where to send the ballots, not the County Clerk. According to the Board of Supervisors’ Resolution, even if you don't receive your ballot, “failure of a person to receive notice does not invalidate …” the election. Anyone see a problem here? This 'election' has been timed to minimize public awareness because most people are focused on the state’s budget problems.
All voices will not be equal on this ballot—votes will be ‘weighted’. Some landowners' votes will be worth more than others. And, with over one third of the land in this county in public ownership, an interesting question arises. Who will vote for the great number of federal and state lands?
Agencies we already pay taxes to; the county, the cities, school districts, the federal and state governments; would also pay for this new bureaucracy. County supervisors have already decided that the county will vote “YES” and pay more than $5,000. What’s happening is that we are being asked to create another agency that will tax other agencies that tax other agencies that already tax us.
The idea that a new bureaucracy will actually do something is also suspect. When Mr. Batson, the director of Environmental Health, was questioned as to other vectors such as ticks and rodents, he testified that a new Vector District can't really do anything about ticks except put up signs. If you have rodents, call an exterminator.
How do government bureaucracies get so big and the costs so high? All you need to do is look at what is happening here. There are alternatives to creating new bureaucracies but, of course, those aren't the facts that will be included with the voting mailer.
Peg Pinard is a former SLO County Supervisor. Send comments to the editor at email@example.com.