As the Measure B tax vote comes down to the wire, both campaigns are focusing on a particular segment of the voting population - renters.
These voters don't receive a property tax assessment and are historically less likely to vote than homeowners.
Measure B supporter Bob Herr summed up the situation. "Property taxpayers (are) split 50-50 (on Measure B)," he said. Renters, who account for 45 percent of the voting population, will decide the election.
"We're hoping they'll open the envelope (containing the mail-in ballot) and say, 'Taxes!'" he said.
From his point of view, it's important to keep everyone focused on the issue at hand, which is: "Cap the tax," rather than the "social issue" regarding the shape of medical care in the future.
Opponents of the measure have also recognized the need to influence this group of voters, as the success or failure of Measure B and, in effect, the fate of a new hospital building, may well lie in their hands.
The Save Our Hospital group has jumped on the woo-the-renter bandwagon. In the Aug. 11 edition of the Feather River Bulletin, it ran a half-page ad, with a header that read: "Attention Renters young and old. The hospital is for all of us." The ad asserts, "The vast majority of rental-unit owners would see a tax increase of only $3 to $7 per month, and most would not even bother to pass such a small cost on to their renters."
The focus on renters elicits a broad spectrum of responses, though, just as every aspect of this contentious election has.
One renter, who wanted to remain anonymous, reported she received a letter from her landlord the week of Aug. 9 that said he would have to raise her rent if Measure B fails and he has to pay the significantly higher $125/$100,000 amount.
He informs his renters that, although he never raises rent on good tenants, he "might be making an exception as a result of these outrageous and terribly unfair new hospital taxes imposed by Measure A if Measure B should fail."
He goes on to support the tax cap as reasonable and says its lower $50/$100,000 would not force a rent increase. The $125 rate, on the other hand, should Measure B fail, would force the increase. "If B fails I will be increasing all rents appropriately."
Feather Publishing contacted the Plumas County Assessor's Office to find out the assessed value of the landlord's properties. If the landlord increased rents to offset the $125/$100,000 tax rate, renters would pay between $3.98 and $8.68 per month, depending on the unit occupied. (See sidebar for calculations.)
Other landlords apparently are planning a rent increase as well. Quincy Real Estate and Property Management confirmed that three of the landlords it represents have said in the past six weeks that they'd be raising rents if Measure B passed.
Ken Henrici, another landlord, had an interesting take on the issue. He said many of his units are Section 8, and he isn't allowed to raise their rents. Further, he felt it was morally wrong to raise some rents and not others, so he wouldn't be raising any of them.
Henrici has several properties, and between them his tax bill went up more than $900 last year.
He felt lied to he said. If Plumas District Hospital's board and administration had let people know a few months earlier when they first became aware of the higher than expected tax rate, it would have helped him significantly.
A contractor, Henrici said winter is traditionally his worst time - even more so in this economy. "It's not a wonderful time for a big, unexpected bill," he said.
Because he's a contractor, Henrici questions the hospital's assertion the old building can't be retrofitted. "Yes, you can," he said. "I've done that kind of work."
All renters should be aware that their landlords will not see any PDH assessment on their 2010 - 11 tax bills. Should Measure B pass, the resulting assessments would not show up until the 2011 - 12 tax bill.
Neither the cappers nor the savers will know which way renters swing until election night, Tuesday, Aug. 31. Voters can look for election results at plumasnews.com.
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