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Local News

Fort Bragg Voters approve street tax

Two people stand at the end of a narrow alley, one wall of which is decorated with a mural.
Frank Hartzell
The recently approved street tax is supposed to improve the city's narrow alleys.

Fort Bragg voters passed a sales tax extension by a whopping 81 percent majority last week. The vote pleased city leaders but didn't surprise them, as roads are always at the top of the list of issues in both praise and complaints. It was the only item on the November 7 ballot.

Mendocino County Assessor-Clerk Recorder-Registrar of Voters Katrina Bartolomie said she expected the final count to be finished by 5pm on Friday and posted on the county’s website soon thereafter.

City Manager Peggy Ducey, who has found several new ways for the city to create revenue during her tenure, said her quote was, “Hallelujah,” that this old tax was continued.

She noted that the very rainy and very long winter that soaked city residents and caused road damage all over reminded residents how important road repair is for their city. She said roads can’t be repaired until the rains stop. This meant the city had to get going later than usual, but continued working on the worst and most used roads.

Something new is that the tax does not expire, or “sunset” this time. Back in 2004 and again in 2014, the term was again ten years. This time the tax will stay in place unless the city council makes a special effort to rescind it.

The vote won’t actually kick in until the first day of 2025. People buying products like hot pepper jelly or Thanksgiving coffee in the city won’t see any change in the 8.875 percent tax rate that they pay. The road tax is a half cent of that amount so the sales tax without the road tax would be 8.375 percent.

The initial vote went 734-172 of residents in favor of the tax. With only 66 percent needed to pass, the election night vote was well above the needed threshold. Bartolemie said there were only four provisional ballots. The county did find one person that accidentally voted twice. They were immediately contacted and the provisional ballot discarded. Bartolomie said the person was elderly and apologetic and had simply forgotten they had voted.

The turnout in the all vote by mail election was tabulated at just 23 percent of Fort Bragg’s 3900 registered voters, one of the lowest in memory. Bartolomie said 59 percent of registered Mendocino County voters cast ballots in the 2020 election, when the ballot was charged by the presidential election.

Mayor Bernie Norvell said with the value of dollars decreasing, it’s especially important to keep the revenue stream for roads coming in.

The city once redid the roads with its own public works department but the cost of equipment and the consolidation of the business by large construction companies has made that cost prohibitive. Norvell said the cost to pave a mile of streets has nearly tripled compared to what it was just a few years ago.

The city has also obtained other grant monies each year, some of them dependent on keeping the sales tax money flowing.

The sales tax has raised about $963,000 per year, county figures show.

Something new will be more money to fix up more of the city’s alleys. Alleys were built in a day of horse and buggy deliveries in a town much more self sufficient than it is now. The butchers, bakers and candlestick makers used dirt alleys for deliveries. The world changed as Fort Bragg’s streets were improved and paved, but the alleys were largely left out, not getting the kind of upgrades that the roads around them did. In recent years, alleys have enjoyed a kind of renaissance as people have gone back to walking more and using the alleys more for things like the Farmers Market and Fort Bragg’s increasing number of walk and bike friendly events. There also has been a mural art renaissance.

In 2021 the city’s pavement condition index scored 68 overall on a scale of 1 to 100. That is a much higher grade than when the tax began. The road rating rose 29 points between 2001-2021, with sales tax money used in 17 of those 20 years. The average for all roads in the Bay Area is 67, state files show. A good score doesn't start until 70.

The city’s roads would have scored higher had it not been for alleys dragging down the score.

The city expects it will actually need less money in the future as the index goes higher, as fixing really bad roads finally ends and it becomes all preventive maintenance.

Local News
Frank Hartzell’s first journalism job was in Texas in 1983. For 35 years, he worked for daily and weekly newspapers as prestigious as the Mendocino Beacon and as obscure as the Sacramento Bee. He owned his own newspapers at one time and was once managing editor of the Napa Valley Register for several years, but much prefers working security at Adventist Health Mendocino Coast Hospital. Frank is a regular contributor to the Mendocino Voice and loves ocean walks with dog Brutus and hanging out with wife Linda Little, her mom and their nephews Joel and Jack. He is a bookseller and chicken farmer and can be reached about any of this at frankhartzell@gmail.com