In a first step toward finding revenue to repair roads, Old City Hall, parking facilities and the police department, Placerville City Council commissioned a survey to find out whether voters would support a 1/2-cent increase in sales tax. At the April 8 City Council meeting, the results of the survey, conducted by telephone March 7-17, were presented.
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Two hundred surveys were collected from city voters who had voted in at least two elections or registered to vote after Nov. 2010 and voted in the 2012 election or registered to vote after Nov. 2012.
Environmental issues, mostly dealing with the drought and water use were the biggest concerns, followed by jobs and the economy. A majority of voters felt that the mayor and City Council should make city streets, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and storm drains top priority followed by homelessness and bringing jobs to the city.
According to the survey, 62 percent of those surveyed would vote in favor of a 1/2-cent sales tax increase with fixing the roads and improving infrastructure and being necessary as their top reasons for voting. Those who would vote against the increase, 31.5 percent, cited already high taxes and not having enough money as their top reasons for doing so.
Knowing that the tax is shielded from cash grabs by the state and having an oversight committee to oversee the funds raised by the sales tax increase moved more voters to favor a possible sales tax increase, bringing the voters in favor of the proposition to almost double those in opposition.
“This is more positive than I expected,” said City Manager Cleve Morris, “but there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered.” Some of the questions were whether the tax level should be 1/8, 1/4 or 1/2; whether it should be a general tax or specific; what specific facilities should be funded and whether the tax should have a sunset.
“The survey answers some of those questions,” said Morris. Whether the sales tax was 1/4- or 1/2-cent or whether it had a 20-year, 10-year or no sunset made little difference, according to the survey.
“Your numbers support a more general tax than a specific one,” said Justin Wallin of Problosky Research, the company that conducted the survey. “Having an oversight committee also generated support.”
Councilwoman Trisha Wilkins asked if both 1/2 and 1/4 choices should be included on the ballot and whether a sunset to the tax should be included. “Having two choices introduces uncertainty, especially with voters who are seeing the measure on the ballot for the first time,” said Wallin. “People supported the sale tax increase without a sunset, so it isn’t needed, but you could include it.”
“I don’t like the idea of a tax, but our roads are terrible and we can’t present ourselves as a city with this mess,” said Vice Mayor Patty Borelli. “One of my requirements would be an oversight committee if this goes on the ballot.”
“I’m not a fan of sales tax increase,” said Councilwoman Carol Patton, “but no other solutions were presented and that disappoints me. Sales tax increases do affect the business owners who have to compete with businesses on Missouri Flat Road.”
“How would a sales tax increase affect business in Placerville?” asked Jackie Neau, a Placerville resident. “Maybe we should look at the bigger issue instead of just increasing taxes.”
Placerville resident Evelyn Veerkamp also asked how downtown merchants might be affected by an increase in sales tax.
“When Measure H was passed, a lot of downtown merchants didn’t get to vote on it because they don’t live in the city,” said Patton. “How can we strategize an increase with the business owners?”
Morris said he had not yet heard back from the Placerville Downtown Association about the issue, but agreed there is a need to strategize with business owners as to the benefits for them. “They need to be part of the discussion,” said Morris.
The City Council was presented with three options: to discontinue further research on a sales tax initiative and look for alternative funding for streets and roads; to direct staff to provide further research into the option of a sales tax measure for Nov. 2014; or to authorize staff to proceed with preparing appropriate documentation for a sales tax measure in November 2014.
“Whatever decision the Council takes tonight is not set in stone,” said Morris. “We have until July 2 to get a resolution to place the tax on the November ballot to the county.
A 4-1 vote carried option two, with city staff directed to research a 1/2-cent increase for general purposes and an oversight committee and exploring a sunset option. Councilwoman Patton was the single nay vote.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.