Parties in an Aug. 27 hearing now await a judge’s decision regarding the fate of Yuba County’s Measure K, a one-cent sales tax increase.

The Public Safety/Essential Services Protection Ordinance successfully passed last November with 53 percent of Yuba County voters in favor of the one-percentage point increase to the sales tax in the unincorporated parts of the county. 

According to a brief from the county, the purpose of the tax was to replace general fund revenue lost in the recession to fund county departments and services.

The lawsuit was brought by two citizens and a law firm who claim Measure K is a special tax which would need a two-thirds majority vote to pass, rather than a simple majority. To be a special tax, the money must be restricted to fund a specific purpose, compared to a general tax which can be used as the county deems fit.

The measure went into effect April 1 and has collected $1.2 million dollars so far, Deputy County Administrator Grace Mull said in an email Friday. Mull said the money has been placed in a trust which the county cannot access until a decision has been reached by the court.

“The taxes are being collected from the businesses but we aren’t able to utilize those funds,” Mull said in a phone interview Friday. “They are in a holding trust until a decision is made.”

Charlie Mathews, a Yuba Water Agency board member, and John Mistler, who ran unsuccessfully for a county supervisor seat in the last election, filed the lawsuit along with Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association on Dec. 21, according to the Yuba County Court public portal.

The plaintiffs filed a brief about Measure K being a special tax stating the county promised voters the measure would fund public safety and essential services but, “can spend Measure K on whatever it pleases,” according to the plaintiff’s brief.

Mike Ciccozzi, county counsel for Yuba County provided the defense’s brief which argues the revenue from the measure can be used generally as the county supervisor sees fit.

“'Public safety’ and ‘essential services’ helpfully inform voters how their tax dollars might be spent; they do not limit supervisors’ discretion to appropriate these funds,” according to the defense’s brief. 

The answer to the question of whether the county would have to repay the funds collected if the court sides with the plaintiffs is not yet known. Mull said she suspects either side to appeal the decision depending on the judge’s verdict, which would further stall the usage of funds.

“It’s kind of unfortunate,” Mull said. “The voters voted for it, but nobody can use it.”

Judge Stephen Berrier presided over the hearing and has yet to render a verdict as of publication.

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