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Ukiah, Mendocino County--

New Taxes are rarely popular, but new Mendocino County Supervisor Charles Peterson has come out for them. The alternative to the taxes, said Peterson, is further cuts in county services. "I know what we have done," said Peterson, "and it will be horrifying if we make further cuts."

So far the 5th district county supervisor has maintained a relatively low profile since his election back in November of 1994. Now he has come out advocating a position that could put him in the spotlight.

Mendocino County, like most other counties in California, is strapped for money. As a consequence, two new taxes are being considered there: a utilities tax and a business tax. Currently the county depends on property taxes and money from the state for revenue.

The total county budget is about $90 million, with about $70 million in "subventions" or money passed along from the state or other authorities. Of particular concern is a deficit of $600,000 in the 1996 budget which the proposed business and utility taxes could fill.

One argument made against such taxes is that they will chase business away. But Peterson doesn't buy that: "The cities have higher tax rates. Why is it that all the businesses go to the cities? They go to the cities because they provide services."

Supervisor Frank McMichael couldn't agree less. "We have been talking about how to attract business to the county," said McMichael, and higher taxes, he feels, are not the way to do it. With the proposed 4% utility tax, it would cost Masonite Corporation, one of the county's larger employers, $20,000 to $25,000 per month.

While Masonite is not "on the edge," a lot of small businesses in Mendocino County are, according to McMichael.

And on a personal level, said McMichael, "An awful lot of people are feeling on the edge." He has opposed the taxes since they were proposed, he said. "I don't intend to tax struggling people."

He proposes that the county "count every nickel and dime" and have every department--with the exception of the Sheriffs Office--come back with suggested cuts.

But Peterson feels the new taxes are vital to the future of Mendocino County. "What is the solution otherwise?" he asked. "I'm not buying the bull shit anymore that all we have to do is cut something else in government."

In any work force there is always some "dead wood," said Peterson. "There are always ways to be innovative and to be more efficient and to save money." But he said, "I sincerely believe that the vast majority of all of our county departments have people in them that are working on that constantly."

The board of supervisors will discuss the new taxes in September and October, and the debate is likely to be heated.


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