County denies groundwater agency advance on new tax

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The Colusa County Board of Supervisors voted against advancing the Colusa Groundwater Authority 100 percent of its revenue from a new fee imposed on landowners for ground water sustainability activities until the lawsuit asking the court to invalidate the tax is settled. 

Colusa County Auditor Peggy Scroggins said she would have initially recommended to the Board of Supervisors that the CGA be paid all direct charges levied for 2019-20 in the amount of $466,500 regardless of whether the taxes were actually paid, but felt it was unclear how the county would recoup the funds if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs and invalidates the assessment.  

Colusa County landowners are slated to pay an additional $1.21 per acre in property taxes beginning with their December tax bills to fund the CGA’s efforts to develop a plan that protects groundwater from the effects of drought and climate change, which is required under state legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. 

Scroggins said instead of advancing the full revenue, the taxes would be placed into a fund as they are collected and dispersed to the CGA three times a year. 

“They will be earning interest on the money while it is in the county treasury,” she said. 

Scroggins said on a positive note for the authority, Colusa County’s secured tax delinquency rate is very low – about 1 percent – and that most people pay their taxes when they are due. 

“If the citizens in the Colusa Groundwater are like the rest of the citizens in the county…(The CGA) will receive 99 percent, or thereabouts,” Scroggins said. 

As a side note, however, Scroggins said if the court were to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, and reverse the tax assessment, the county would seek reimbursement from the CGA the cost of having to refund taxpayers the amount collected.  

The lawsuit claims the tax charged by the CGA is invalid because it was not approved by a popular vote of two-thirds of the electors who would be qualified to vote on the issue, nor was the fee imposed to recover the reasonable regulatory costs of “issuing licenses and permits, performing investigations, inspections, audits, or enforcing agriculture marketing orders.”

If the CGA prevails in the lawsuit, Scroggins said the Board of Supervisors could – in the future – reconsider advancing the tax revenue annually before it is collected. 

Colusa County Superior Court has scheduled a status conference on the lawsuit for Dec. 3.