District 3 Calaveras County Supervisor candidates Merita Callaway and incumbent Michael Oliveira debated on Calaveras Public Access TV last week.
With “Mondo Calaveras” host Mike Taylor as moderator, the candidates fielded questions about several issues facing the county, including tree mortality, the budget, the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) and the dividedness of the Board of Supervisors.
Regarding the county’s tree mortality crisis as it may impact private homeowners, Callaway offered the types of funding available through the county and Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
“People are somewhat reluctant to have government come onto their property, but it’s for the best of the community,” Callaway said. “PG&E and the agencies involved are doing a fine job.”
Oliveira detailed his accomplishments in receiving funding for the county tree mortality task force, a subgroup of the governor’s tree mortality task force, a collective of state and federal agencies, local governments, utilities and various stakeholders that coordinate emergency protective actions.
“We were able through government entities and funding to attack this problem, get those trees down that are dead, because that develops our fire hazards,” Oliveira said. “We’re in pretty good shape for public entities, but private owners face another dilemma, and it’s been very expensive for them. I had constituents getting bids of $20,000, $30,000 and $40,000 to remove trees. In Calaveras County, those are fixed income in some cases. We were able to provide some CDAA (California Disaster Assistance Act) funding through homeowners associations, special districts.”
Taylor asked candidates what they think the future of the county looks like financially, with reference to raises for county employees.
“We have a problem here in this county,” Oliveira responded. “We have pending lawsuits, $16 million we just got served a few weeks ago. Ironically, in our last budget session, we had to provide additional 5 percent cutting (to county employees). With those issues facing us, we have to be frugal in what we do, and make sure that we can be sustainable in the next five to 10 years. We have issues in compensation for our public safety, our department heads, for county employees.”
Callaway said, “I’ve been through many economic cycles with the county; I support the departments. When they have to bite the bullet, they really bite it, whether it’s 5 percent, 2 percent, flat budget. I do not see the gloom and doom that Michael does. In reading the budget memo, there was $9 million in carryover, which was used to balance the budget. There was one-time money that is being used for one-time projects such as demolition of the jail, architectural drawing for the DA’s office. But I also think we need to be competitive for the employees of the county, because turnover costs the county money.”
Both candidates say they support a 6 percent increase to the TOT, which applies to visitors to the county, though they disagreed on where revenues from the tax should be allocated.
In support of dividing the revenues among the Calaveras County Visitor’s Bureau, roads and General Fund, Callaway said, “I support the TOT being on the ballot. I don’t think that the breakdown that the board did this year was appropriate. The TOT was set up in the state to pay to encourage tourism, and I strongly believe that at least a third of that money belongs to the visitor’s bureau. They’re the ones that bring the visitors to the county. Plus, thanks to the work of the treasurer, I believe we now collect money for AirBnBs. You look at what are the services that the visitors require. That could be anything from a mental health service to roads to services that are provided from different departments in the General Fund. I like the third-third-third concept.”
Oliveira emphasized that he wants the revenues to “go to designated areas,” and disagreed with allocating funds from the tax to the General Fund.
“Our TOT tax covers what we expend in services for our visitors to our county,” Oliveira said. “That is our infrastructure, our roads, our public safety, our fire and police and sheriff’s department. I agree with the visitor’s bureau; to get them in their cars and drive here, we need to have the advertising of the visitor’s bureau. It’s a good thing. We were at 6 percent for a long, long time. When we enacted the TOT tax back 10, 15 years ago. It was gonna go to three different areas. The TOT I wanted to go to designated areas, but unfortunately to have a majority vote on the ballot, it’s gonna go to the General Fund and be dispersed through the Board of Supervisors recommendation and decision.”
Callaway and Oliveira also discussed the dividedness of the supervisors and how they would fix this issue as a supervisor.
“I believe the current board is a little dysfunctional among themselves,” Callaway said. “I have worked with some challenging supervisors. I think it can be done. I’ve seen some of the supervisors be rude to staff, public, each other. It’s the issues that matter, not personality.”
Oliveira responded, “The board is dysfunctional. In the last three years, it seems to have increased. There are people on that board that have personal agendas. I think they’ve lost sight of the good of the county ... I feel we’re at a pivotal point, and I think we really need to make some wise decisions, and that comes with the quality and the assets of a Board of Supervisors.”
Voters can stream the debate at http://bit.ly/D3_Debate.