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Local News

Grand Jury Recommends Putting Oil-Production Tax to Voters

A $1-per-barrel levy would help Santa Barbara County overcome a $13.7 million budget deficit for 2014-15

Santa Barbara County should place an oil-production tax on the ballot to increase local revenues, the County Grand Jury said in a report this week.

Shaky finances — and the quest to build and fund operations for the new North County Jail — prompted the jury to recommend that the Board of Supervisors listen to County Executive Officer Chandra Wallar and put a new oil tax before voters.

The county is expected to have a $13.7 million budget gap in 2014-15, and that could bring service reductions and more cuts, the report said.

Putting aside the debate on the environmental impacts of oil drilling, the grand jury report said it’s critical for elected officials to find new sources of revenue.

The grand jury recommended the same thing Wallar brought to the supervisors in February — putting a $1-per-barrel tax on November’s ballot, which would have brought in $3.38 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

“The jury acknowledges that imposing a new severance tax on oil producers could reduce their economic incentive for operating in the county,” according to the report.

Taxes on oil are mostly based on property values, and have been limited since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978. California doesn’t have an oil-production tax, but there is a statewide conservation tax of 14 cents per barrel.

The county also gets $600,000 per year in Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund money related to offshore oil production.

Five Southern California cities have oil-production taxes, ranging from 30 to 58 cents per barrel, but the grand jury suggests $1 per barrel.

There has been oil production in Santa Barbara County since 1888, when onshore oil exploration started in Summerland, and the 1969 spill that leaked 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the ocean sparked new environmental laws.

The county produced 56 percent of the cumulative oil on California’s Outer Continental Shelf, and 73 percent of the gas through 2000, according to the county Planning and Development Department.

The Grand Jury also released reports analyzing low-income housing projects and local graffiti abatement programs.

Following the findings that there was little oversight over the Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation, which mismanaged its housing projects and public money, the Grand Jury investigated other low-income housing providers.

Other providers’ reputations may have suffered by association, but the Grand Jury found no basis for the complaints it received and determined LHCDC was an outlier, according to the report.

Another short report encouraged all cities to keep supporting graffiti-abatement programs.

“Graffiti is more than an aesthetic problem,” the report stated. “It is a blight that affects the desirability of a community and, if left unchecked, it becomes a symbol of defiance.” Even minor incidents should be handled immediately, it said.

For reporting information in Santa Barbara County, use the following resources:

» Buellton — Citizens can report to police at 805.686.8150 and the Public Works Department removes it at city cost.

» Carpinteria — Citizens can report to the city hotline at 805.684.5405 x511. Every city vehicle is equipped with graffiti removal kits, and the city has a rewards program for the arrest and conviction of perpetrators.

» Goleta — A group of volunteers has been removing graffiti for the past 15 years, with paint that is donated, and incidents can be reported to the hotline at 805.968.6769.

» Guadalupe — The city removes graffiti from public buildings, and private owners are asked to remove it. All incidents can be reported to the Public Works Department hotline at 805.343.1340 x5.

» Lompoc — Police look for and document graffiti while the Sanitation Department removes it. Local religious and service organizations remove graffiti at their own expense. Graffiti can be reported to 805.736.2341 x6143.

» Santa Barbara — The Public Works Department has a truck with high-pressure water equipment and city paint colors to remove graffiti and repaint, but private property owners are required to remove it from their buildings. The city has a deal with Union Pacific Railroad to remove graffiti from the tracks and get reimbursed. Looking Good Santa Barbara provides graffiti abatement kits as well. The hotline number for reporting graffiti is 805.897.2513.

» Santa Maria — The city Parks Department removes graffiti from public and private property, with the owner’s permission. It recently started an online graffiti tracker, and all graffiti can be reported at 805.925.0951 x667.

» Solvang — The maintenance department removes graffiti from public buildings and requires private property owners to remove their own. All incidents can be reported to the Sheriff’s Department substation at 805.686.5000.

» County residents — All unincorporated area residents can report graffiti to the Public Works Department at 805.568.3000.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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