Yreka Pool Sales Tax Heads To November Ballot

Yreka City Council has reaffirmed a measure to place a sales tax referendum in the November ballot to generate new funds to be used for the maintenance and operation of a new water park and financing firefighters.

The council voted 4 to 1 in favor of voters’ decision on the fate of a half percent sales tax. Councilwoman Deborah voted against.

If the measure passes by 50% plus one vote, Yreka’s new sales tax rate would increase to 8.25%. The increase is expected to generate about $1 million a year, the money needed to operate and maintain the new pool complex, and increase funding for the city’s volunteer fire department. If voters refuse the tax increase, the city will not go ahead with the pool project and will return the grant it was given by the state to build the development, which is estimated to cost $8 .5 million dollars.

The swimming pool has been at the center of the debate, as residents and council members see the project either as a worthy public amenity or as a luxury the city cannot afford or needs.

“What is there to build, to build a park that you don’t need? City resident Jan Osborn asked in her public comments to council, citing the city’s hiking trails and other park amenities. “We don’t need a park. And we certainly don’t need a pool, much less two pools.

“Swimming pools are a luxury,” she added. “These are not needs.”

Ringe Pool on Knapp Drive in Yreka was built in 1962 and operated until 2017 when a large crack was discovered.  Replacing the pool with a new facility on site would cost approximately $6.5 million.  The city council will consider this option, as well as another, which would be to build a new swimming pool complex on Foothill Drive.

Osborn then urged the council to cease further development of the project and to deny voters the opportunity to form their own opinion.

“Return the grant. Don’t spend money. Do not print any ballots,” Osborn said.

Council rejected this austere vision for the city, with Councilman Corey Middleton replying, “Why not more?

“I support him. I supported him from day one,” Middleton said. “I’m moving at full speed.”

But ultimately, the debate at the May 3 council meeting seemed to be more about the careful analysis of words, particularly how the new taxes might be used. To be clear, if the measure passes, the money will be sent to the city’s general fund. The council intends to use the money to support the pool and the fire department, but it will not be legally affected. To achieve this level of assurance, the vote would require two-thirds approval for the passage, of course, from a bar above the 50% threshold.

Thus, the wording of the council resolution reads: “one-half percent sales tax for the general fund intended primarily to finance the maintenance and operation” of the new swimming pool complex, and “to other city parks, necessary fires and other essential city services”.

“In my opinion, if we’re going to do this, I say, and in my opinion, half of that money should go to fire protection,” Mayor Duane Kegg said, affirming his vision for how the city should dedicate the new funding. .

It was this “bundling” of the pool and firefighters that seemed to anger Baird, the lone non-voter, saying the language of the ballot combines a non-essential service like a new pool, with an essential service like protection against fires.

Ringe Pool on Knapp Drive in Yreka was built in 1962 and operated until 2017 when a large crack was discovered.  Replacing the pool with a new facility on site would cost approximately $6.5 million.  The city council will consider this option, as well as another, which would be to build a new swimming pool complex on Foothill Drive.

“I think it’s an unfair decision that we’re asking the community to make,” Baird said.

Lorenzo Love, a frequent commentator at city council meetings, took issue with the council’s strategy of mixing pool and fire services into ballot language, especially since it is non-binding and the general fund can be spent as the council wishes.

“It’s not going to go to the fire department. Y’all know that,” Love said, his voice rising to a close shout, as he continued to call the tax measure “misleading.”

Skip Descadnt is a freelance journalist. He writes for newspapers in California, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. He lives in downtown Yreka.