National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 More referenda concern counties

By Charlie Ban

Taxing non-medical marijuana in three states, a tug of war over a town in North Dakota and a new levy for road construction in Arkansas are among the issues voters will decide on Election Day.

In part two of a series on ballot measures, County News takes a look at how counties would be affected by the outcomes.

In North Dakota, voters in Cass and Richland counties will stage a tug of war over Pleasant Township. Cass voters will choose whether to let Pleasant go, and Richland voters will decide whether to bring Pleasant on board. Cass is the most urban of North Dakota’s counties, but Jeff Eslinger, communications director for the North Dakota Association of Counties, said the issue is flood-control related.

Web Extra

California: Prop 30; California: Prop 31; California: Prop 34

“I’m not aware of this ever happening…certainly not in modern times,” he said. “The infamous Red River that floods Fargo quite often flows north, so any mitigation they do tends to cause problems upstream — south in this case — and so this township feels it’s being trampled by the city folk, and so they want to join the other county, which is fighting against some elements of Fargo’s flood plan.”

Meanwhile on Arkansas’s statewide ballot, voters will decide whether to approve a 10-year half-cent sales tax proposal to fund the extension of the four-lane highway system in Arkansas.

“Issue No. 1 could have a profound effect on county road budgets,” said Chris Villines, the Association of Arkansas Counties’ executive director. “It would result in an injection of millions of dollars into each county’s road fund.”

New Jersey’s county colleges would benefit from the Building Our Future Act bond referendum, which would provide $150 million for 19 colleges. New Jersey Association of Counties Executive Director John Donnadio said enrollment at those colleges has increased dramatically in the last few years.

Farther south, Alamance County, N.C. will also look at funding its county college system. Voters will decide on a sales tax and a bond issue that would build and finance a career-training center at Alamance Community College. To the east in Wake County, voters can authorize a bond issue that would raise $200 million for Wake Technical Community College.

In California, Proposition 30 would establish a temporary, seven-year tax for people earning more than $250,000 annually. It would guarantee funding for program responsibilities transferred to counties by the state in 2011, primarily the incarceration of low-level adult offenders and parolees. It also restricts the state’s authority to expand program requirements.

Through this, local government revenues could be higher than they otherwise would have been because the state would be required to continue paying local governments for the responsibilities they assumed in 2011, and to pay all or part of the costs associated with future federal and state law changes and court cases, according to David Liebler, the director of public affairs for the California State Association of Counties.

Proposition 31 establishes a two-year budget cycle, which allows local governments to alter how laws governing state-funded programs apply to them.  In short, if a county is charged with providing a service, it can choose how to do so and gives them the money to do so, unless it runs afoul of state law. The Legislature or relevant state agency would be able to veto that change within 60 days.

Proposition 34 would outlaw capital punishment in California, which would indirectly save counties money. Counties foot the bill for indigent defense, and appeals in death penalty cases are extensive and expensive.

Colorado has a measure on its ballot that would decriminalize and tax non-medical marijuana, allowing local governments to opt out of allowing its sale.

“This would basically treat marijuana like alcohol in the regulatory scheme it sets up,” said Eric Bergman, policy and research supervisor at Colorado Counties, Inc. Even if counties opt out, the measure would still permit growth, possession and use in the home. 

“To be honest, no one expects this measure to pass, but obviously we will be watching with considerable interest,” Bergman said. 

Washington and Oregon voters will decide on similar measures.

Lawrence County, Ala. hopes Amendment 11 passes, which would prohibit municipalities outside of the county from imposing any ordinances inside the county. It would prevent parts of the county from being annexed by cities, a situation Probate Judge Mike Praytor said was attempted, and soundly defeated, in 2011.

Voters in Beaufort and Aiken counties in South Carolina may choose to change their counties’ to the council-manager from the council-administrator form. That change would mean the county treasurers and auditors would be appointed, rather than elected.

Among other county referenda:

Also in North Dakota, Walsh County will vote on granting equal custody in divorces, whenever both parents are judged fit.

Palm Beach County, Fla. voters could approve slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club dog track.

McLean County, Ill. could end up eliminating its recorder’s office, transferring its functions to its county clerk’s office.

McHenry County, Ill. will vote on changing to an executive form of government.

Smith County, Texas voters could decide to allow alcohol sales in their county.

The Oct. 8 County News article on ballot items improperly described Arizona’s Proposition 115. The proposition makes various changes to the judicial branch and the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments.​