The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday in San Andreas to spend $23,500 on a consultant to do polling, outreach and education in advance of putting a ballot measure to voters in November to boost the county’s current visitors tax from 6 percent to 10 or 12 percent.

Tim Lutz, the county administrative officer, told the five elected board members their approval of a sole-source contract was needed Tuesday in order to meet approaching deadlines in July to get language to the elections office for placement on Nov. 6 ballots.

Voting for the move were supervisors Gary Tofanelli, District 1, Mike Oliveira, District 3, Dennis Mills, District 4, and Clyde Clapp, District 5. Oliveira and Clapp are on a visitors tax committee formed in December.

Jack Garamendi, the District 2 supervisor, voted against the measure. Garamendi emphasized he is all for raising the visitors tax, also known as a transient occupancy tax. Garamendi said he could not vote to approve the sole-source contract Tuesday without more background information coming directly from the consultant, Government Financial Strategies of Sacramento.

Government Financial Strategies staff were not present Tuesday in San Andreas. Lutz spoke for them and emphasized the county has a 13-year relationship with Government Financial Strategies that includes their help securing approval by Calaveras County voters of the 2007 Measure J initiative to build the county jail and sheriff’s administrative building.

Bruce Giudici, a Valley Springs resident who is running to unseat Clapp in June as supervisor in District 5, questioned the need for speed Tuesday in approving the $23,500 contract.

“Why this time crunch?” Guidici asked Lutz and the supervisors. “You took away the cannabis tax, now this sole-source contract being forced on the board. Why not do this in-house? Can’t the supervisors do this cost-free? Isn’t this what supervisors do, talk to their constituents about why something is necessary? Why poll people on the difference between 10 and 12 percent? What expertise is a consultant going to provide?”

Giudici said he agrees the visitors tax should be put to voters but he doesn’t see why the county’s general fund should pay for polls and outreach.

Before the vote, Tofanelli asked if an actual contract and scope of work for the Government Financial Strategies project already exists, and whether it’s been reviewed by county counsel.

Lutz and Megan Stedtfeld, county counsel, confirmed a contract and scope of work have been reviewed by legal staff.

Garamendi’s questions included whether a request for proposal, seeking proposals or bids from more than one consultant, was done, and if Lutz had stats showing how successful Government Financial Strategies has been on previous visitors tax ballot initiatives.

Lutz said no request for proposal was done because of the relationship the county already has with Government Financial Strategies. Lutz said Government Financial Strategies has a 90 percent success rate on more than 100 previous bond and tax measures since their founding in 1988. The tax measures included sales tax measures, Lutz said, but he did not have specific data on the consultant’s track record with visitors tax measures.

Oliveira said a presentation he and Clapp and the rest of the visitors tax committee had was informative. He emphasized the deadlines for getting a measure on November ballots.

Clapp initially said he agreed with Garamendi, that he’d like to see a presentation for the full board from Government Financial Strategies before voting. Lutz said the earliest the consultant could come to San Andreas would be in May.

“Our deadline is July 24 to get language on November ballots,” Lutz said. “If we’re looking at polling every minute is critical.”

Mills said he wanted to see the measure passed Tuesday because of time constraints.

Earlier Tuesday in closed session with Stedtfeld, the Board of Supervisors took no reportable action on existing litigation, in which the Calaveras Cannabis Legal Defense Fund and Trevor Wittke, a grower and executive director for the Calaveras Cannabis Alliance, are making legal moves against Calaveras County in Calaveras Superior Court.

A 36-page writ from lawyers for the plaintiffs alleges Brown Act violations and misuse of public resources by the county and the Board of Supervisors.

Specifically, the Calaveras Cannabis Legal Defense Fund and Wittke accuse members of the board of meeting and communicating with other board members to discuss creation of an environmental hazmat registry database and an environmental white paper, Silent Poison, distributed by Mills in October, and to negotiate a proposed ban on commercial cannabis cultivation, all without public notice of the meetings and conversations, in advance of the Jan. 10 board 3-2 vote to rescind existing commercial cannabis regulation and replace it with the current ban.

Wittke said Tuesday he hopes a judge will find the county Brown Act violations “must be cured and corrected, they must put everything on the record, hold a new meeting, disclose everything to the public and reconsider the ordinance to ban or regulate commercial cannabis.”

In addition, Wittke said, the plaintiffs want to see Mills and possibly Clapp and Tofanelli held accountable for misusing public resources, and they want to see Mills pay back taxpayers the $6,000 or more the county paid to have consultant Ascent Environmental review the Mills report, Silent Poison.

“We’d like a public accounting,” Wittke said. “To let everyone know what happened.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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