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Money pours into battle over Measure M sales tax hike in Citrus Heights

Signs in support and opposition to Measure M can be seen around Citrus Heights. // M. Hazlip

Sentinel staff report–
Campaign finance disclosures filed last month reveal tens of thousands of dollars in contributions are flowing into the fight over Measure M in Citrus Heights, with proponents of the sales tax increase reporting more than 30 times the amount of contributions than the opposing campaign.

Measure M seeks to add a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax in Citrus Heights to boost the city’s general fund budget by an estimated $12 million a year, up from the current $32 million (excluding property tax revenue). Proponents say the tax is needed to cover services like escalating road repair costs and public safety, while opponents claim the city has mismanaged its current funds and say the wording of the tax measure allows funds to be spent on anything.

Disclosures filed by the Sept. 24 deadline show the Yes on Measure M campaign brought in a total of $34,607.56 in contributions from 14 listed donors, while the “No on CH Measure M” campaign reported only receiving $986.50 from a total of two listed donors.

See campaign disclosure forms: click here

The legally required disclosures cover the period of Jan. 1 through Sept. 19, 2020, and include cash, loans and nonmonetary contributions.

Top donors for the “Yes” campaign include $10,000 from King’s Casino Management Corporation (the parent company of Stones Casino), $5,000 from Coastline Water Resources, Inc., and $5,000 from longtime resident Ted Mitchell. Donations in the amount of $1,000 or more also came from Stephan Biondi of Biondi Paving, Inc., John Gard of Fehr & Peers, as well as corporate donations from MCE Corporation and Dokken Engineering,

Councilmembers Jeannie Bruins, Steve Miller and Jeff Slowey also contributed a combined total of $3,000 to the “Yes” campaign, and Councilwoman Porsche Middleton provided about $355 in nonmonetary contributions, the disclosure shows.

Guest Opinion: I manage a popular Citrus Heights restaurant. Here’s why I’m against Measure M

The only two donors listed for the “No on M” campaign are Sacramento Taxpayers Association President Bruce Lee, who gave $200, and Tim Schaefer, a City Council candidate for District 3 who provided a loan of $578 to the campaign. Miscellaneous small-dollar donation totals are also listed, but names are not required to be reported when under $100.

Guest Opinion: Measure M will make Citrus Heights stronger, safer

Opponents of Measure M quickly jumped on the campaign disclosures and described the race as a “David versus Goliath” fight. Opposition leader Bruce Lee said his campaign was “funded by small donations and hundreds of hours of volunteer service,” while proponents pointed to their large fundraising totals as a sign of strong support from the community.

In a statement to The Sentinel, Lee accused the “Yes on M” campaign of being “funded primarily by business interests outside Citrus Heights with city connections working the political ‘pay to play’ system with the city.” He described key funders as being “a casino that depends on happy relations with the city to operate; and political insiders – such as three council members.”

Stones Gambling Hall issued a statement in response to an inquiry from The Sentinel about the reason for its parent company’s donation, saying: “Throughout our history as a Citrus Heights business, we have always supported initiatives that are for the betterment of the community we serve, our support of Measure M is consistent with that objective.”

MCE corporation, which lists a Concord address, currently has a $150,000 annual contract with the city for sign maintenance, Dokken Engineering and Fehr & Peers have both contracted with the city in recent years, and Biondi was a recent bidder for a paving contract.

The Yes on Measure M campaign committee issued a brief statement regarding its contributions, calling the level of support “very encouraging” and stating that contributions “have been made by local community members, local businesses and organizations that genuinely care about Citrus Heights.”

Out-of-town involvement on both sides has come up as an issue during the campaign, with Lee being prevented from speaking at a Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce forum due to him not being a resident of the city. Lee has responded that the taxpayers association he heads has members in Citrus Heights, whom he represents.

The next financial disclosure statements from both sides are due Oct. 22, with the exception of donations over $1,000 which must be reported individually within 24 hours of receipt.

Campaign expenditures
Expenditures are also listed on the disclosure documents, with the “No on M” campaign reporting just $135.46 in miscellaneous small-dollar expenses and the “Yes on M” campaign reporting $12,837.78 in expenditures for advertising and postage-related expenses.

The “Yes on M” campaign has already sent out one mailer, reaching mailboxes over the past week. The City of Citrus Heights also sent out a mailer about Measure M and has posted information about the measure on its website, drawing criticism from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

In a two-page letter to the city dated Oct. 1 obtained by The Sentinel, the association said the city has been making “misleading” claims about the tax measure and accused the city of unlawfully “using public resources to disseminate communications that are not neutral, but are instead argumentative and designed to influence the electorate.”

City Manager Chris Boyd responded to the accusation in a statement to The Sentinel on Saturday:

“As the election approaches, the City provides education to our community about what’s new for Citrus Heights voters, including districting, the local measure, and how to vote safely during the pandemic. We do not engage in advocacy activity.”

  • Read the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association letter: click here
  • See the city’s Measure M mailer: click here

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